Water is essential for life, but not only because it provides us with much needed hydration. Sterile water helps wounds and sores heal effectively and is a priceless resource in areas where health care facilities are lacking. Normally, water is sterilized using one of three methods: chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide or chlorine – which are toxic and heavy to transport; ultra-violet light, which requires electricity; or filtration methods that are quite inefficient because of filters that clog with particulate in the water.
New research from the University of Hull may have pinpointed a way to use nothing but sunlight and air to provide a constant supply of sterile water to remote areas. The research shows that molecules which produce a highly toxic form of oxygen in response to sunlight, could be the key.
These scary sounding molecules – known as porphyrins — were originally developed to attack cancer cells, but researchers say they could also be used to target toxins in the water supply. “We know from earlier work that the same technique which works on cancer cells will destroy many species of bacteria including MRSA and E. Coli,” said lead researcher from Hull’s Department of Chemistry, Dr. Ross Boyle. “It can also knock out at least one common parasite. And a major advantage is that it doesn’t create resistance in micro-organisms.”
To test his theory, Boyle and his team want to attach the molecules to glass beads that can be packed inside some sort of transparent tube, perhaps even an upturned plastic bottle. As water flows through the tube in natural light, the porphyrins on the beads react to create the toxic form of oxygen, killing the bacteria and parasites in the water to render it sterile.
The system will also have no byproducts, other than the used glass beads, as the toxic form of oxygen converts back to normal oxygen spontaneously and rapidly if it does not react with the microorganisms. The beads will have a set lifespan, but once spent can be recycled as ordinary glass or can be taken away to be recoated with the light-sensitive molecules for re-use.