Bioremediation, the study of using living organisms to
remove pollutants or contaminants from the environment, is a hot new field of
research. Nanotechnology, including carbon
and nanomembranes is another extremely hot field, which promises to one day
provide revolutionary improvements to nearly every field of science.
Combine the two fields and you get the University
of Nottingham's new research.
Rather than just study
nanofilters with nanopores or waste-eating bacteria, the English
researchers at the University of Nottingham -- headed by Nidal Hilal, Professor
of Chemical and Process Engineering in the Centre for Clean Water Technologies
-- combined the two exciting fields to develop a new prototype system, which
provides a glimpse at the potential future of water filtration.
The water enters the system and is first passed through colonies
of bacteria, which eat contaminants. The water then flows through an
adjacent nanofilter, featuring pores, which are between ten thousandths of a
millimeter to one nanometer thick.
The work is similar to other research funded by the Middle
East Desalination Research Centre on nanofiltration and ultrafiltration.
The goal is to be able to create pure, drinkable fresh water from sea water or
water contaminated from industrial processes.
The key improvement in the Professor Hilal's system is the use of
bacteria. The bacteria eat the contaminates which prevent the filter from
getting clogged and keep the water flowing. The tech can thus be used in
a closed system without the need for regular membrane replacement.
The research is sponsored by a tech partnership with Cardev
International, an oil filtration company based in Harrogate, England.
One fortunate benefit of the process is that the waste it generates in the form
of contaminate-laden bacteria has a high calorific content, meaning that it
makes an ideal fuel. This could improve the efficiency of many types of
industrial power generation.
Another benefit of the research is by using state-of-the-art atomic force
microscope equipment at the University, researchers are studying fluid movement
at the nanoscale, which will allow for a better understanding of how liquids
flow and pull apart at the nanoscale. This could have broad applications
in mechanical engineering, including improving
oil flow and thus efficiency in automotive engines. Researchers are
testing liquids over a broad temperature range from -50 deg. C to 150 deg. C,
which should help to yield a broad understanding of behavior.
Professor Hilal sees the research as unparalleled in terms of both the study of
fluids at an atomic level and in providing a sustainable nanofiltration
system. He states proudly, "Examining the properties of liquids has
never been done before at this scale. By using bioremediation and
nanofiltration technology combined, the water cleaning process is integrated —
using far less energy than current processes. Add to this the recycling of
waste products as fuels and you have a greener technology."