Aug 13, 2010
Stellenbosch University scientists patent tea-bag-like water filterBack
© Reuse this
Professor Eugene Cloete, microbiologist and Dean of the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University (SU), together with researchers from the Department of Microbiology and SU polymer scientists, recently patented the portable, easy-to-use and environment-friendly water filter bag, which looks like a tea bag.
The bag is filled with active carbon granules that remove harmful chemicals like endocrine disruptors. Cloete says that each “tea bag” filter can clean the most polluted water to the point where it is 100% safe to drink. Once used, the bag is thrown away, and a new one is inserted into the bottle neck.
The sachet combines years of funda-mental research on water purification, nanotechnology and food microbiology in a practical way. It aims to provide easy access to clean drinking water for vulnerable communities living near polluted water streams. There are also plans to commercialise the filter bag into a product that can be used by outdoor enthusiasts on hiking or camping trips.
As a past executive vice-president of global network of water professionals the International Water Association and a member of Coca-Cola’s global panel of water experts, Cloete believes water provision and sustainability go hand in hand. “The lack of adequate, safe and affordable water supplies impacts severely on vulnerable groups, such as the poor, the elderly, HIV patients and children,” he says.
A water security risk index of 165 nations, released by UK-based risk consultancy firm Maplecroft in June found that African and Asian nations had the most vulnerable water supplies, judged by factors such as availability of drinking water, demand per capita and dependence on rivers that flow through other countries. Cloete adds that more than 90% of all cholera cases are reported in Africa, and 300-million people on the continent do not have access to safe drinking water.
“The ‘tea bag’ filter can show the way forward, as it represents decentralised, point-of-use technology. “It can assist in meeting the needs of people who live or travel in remote areas, or people whose regular water supply is not treated to potable standards. “As it is impossible to build purification infrastructure at every polluted stream, we have to take the solution to the people,” he notes.
The invention has become one of the first significant projects of the recently established Stellenbosch University Water Institute, a transdisciplinary initiative established to intensify the search for lasting solutions to the country’s and the continent’s water challenges. Cloete, who also chairs the Water Insti-tute, says he got the idea for the filter during an introductory visit to the SU’s technology transfer company, InnovUS, 18 months ago.
“I was shown the electrospinning technique of spinning ultrathin fibres on a nanoscale, developed by polymer scientist Dr Eugene Smit, of the SU Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science. My mind immediately started churning up the possibilities of how it could be used to clean polluted water,” he says.
A research team was put together and, after various trials and experiments, a filter sachet was developed that not only resembles a tea bag in shape and size, but is made of the same biodegradable material as off-the-shelf rooibos tea bags. The inside of the tea bag material is coated with a thin film of biocides encapsulated within minute nanofibres, which kill all disease-causing microbes.
“We tested the filter with water taken from a river in the Stellenbosch area. The samples were highly polluted with pathogens, but they came out completely clean on the other side,” says postdoctoral fellow Dr Michéle de Kwaadsteniet, who is working on the project with Cloete and Professor Leon Dicks, of the Department of Microbiology.
Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and a member of the water filter bag research team Dr Marelize Botes says that it is exciting to be part of a potentially life-changing project. “It is such an easy-to-use and practical solution to something that’s been a significant challenge for so long,” she notes.
The ‘tea bag’ filter is currently being tested by the South African Bureau of Standards, after which the team hopes to roll it out to various communities.
The Stellenbosch University Water Institute and its ‘tea bag’ water filter form part of SU’s Hope Project, a set of development goals aimed at improving the quality of life of people living in South Africa and on the rest of the continent.
SU rector and vice chancellor Professor Russel Botman adds that the university believes that science should serve the needs of society. “By aligning the expertise of our scientists with the national and global development agenda, we want to become more relevant to society,” he concludes.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Updated 50 minutes ago Up to $2-trillion in petroleum and coal projects will not be needed if the world takes action to limit warming of the planet to 2 degrees Celsius, according to a report released this week ahead of a global climate summit in Paris. The report adds to a string of...
Updated 1 hour 8 minutes ago The South African government will use instruments such as tariff hikes to protect jobs in sectors threatened by imports, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said on Tuesday. Addressing scores of delegates at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)...
Recent Research Reports
Water 2015: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2015 Report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context but also in the African and global context in terms of supply and demand, water stress and insecurity, and access to water and sanitation, besides others.
Input Sector Review: Pumps 2015 (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2015 Input Sector Review on Pumps provides an overview of South Africa’s pumps industry with particular focus on pump manufacture and supply, aftermarket services, marketing strategies, local and export demand, imports, sector support, investment...
Liquid Fuels 2015: A review of South Africa's liquid fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2015 Report examines these issues in the context of South Africa’s business environment; oil and gas exploration; fuel pricing; the development of the country’s biofuels industry; the logistics of transporting liquid fuels; and...
Road and Rail 2015: A review of South Africa's road and rail sectors (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2015 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail infrastructure and network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and...
Defence 2015: A review of South Africa's defence sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Coal 2015 report examines South Africa’s coal industry with regards to the business environment, the key participants in the sector, local demand, export sales and coal logistics, projects being undertaken by the large and smaller participants in the...
Real Economy Year Book 2015 (PDF Report)
There are very few beacons of hope on South Africa’s economic horizon. Economic growth is weak, unemployment is rising, electricity supply is insufficient to meet demand and/or spur growth, with poor prospects for many of the commodities mined and exported. However,...
This Week's Magazine
Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, has the potential to completely change the relationships between individual consumers, professional designers and manufacturers. So argued Loughborough University Reader in Computer Aided Product Design Dr Ian...
Airbus Defence and Space: Military Aircraft has highlighted that its A330 Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) has significant commonalities with the Airbus A330-200 commercial airliner, upon which it is based. The South African Air Force (SAAF) once operated a fleet of...
Financial services provider Nedbank launched the second edition of its Carbon Footprinting Guide earlier this month, which is aimed at demystifying carbon footprint approaches and help readers grasp the main concepts of carbon measuring, monitoring, reporting and...
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Caterpillar’s first backhoe loader. This also coincides with the worldwide release of its latest-generation F2 series backhoe loader, which was launched at supply chain services company Barloworld Logistics’ Big Dig Day in...
A shortage of software engineers is leading to fewer information technology (IT) projects in private and public sector organisations. This also places a dampener on the economy, as IT is an integral part of business and civil service, says University of Witwatersrand...