Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have found a way to make dirty water drinkable with a light, affordable biofoam.

The newly developed bi-layered biofoam is made up of a bottom layer of bacteria-produced cellulose, which acts as a sponge and soaks up the dirty water. It then pushes that water to the top layer, which is comprised of graphene oxide. The graphene oxide then works to evaporate the filth, resulting in an end product of clean water.

“We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India, you’ll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water,” says Srikanth Singamaneni, co-author of the study. “The beauty is that the nanoscale cellulose fiber network produced by bacteria has excellent ability to move the water from the bulk to the evaporative surface while minimizing the heat coming down, and the entire thing is produced in one shot.”


At the 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego, we had the opportunity to gather the grantees from our Science for Solving Society’s Problems challenge, done in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nine grantees came to the table to discuss how ECS facilitated an unprecedented program leading to ground-breaking collaboration and real scientific advancements, while creating a funding opportunity which has helped contribute to planet sustainability.

Listen as these esteemed researchers discuss the global water and sanitation crisis and how electrochemical and solid state science could begin to solve these pressing issues. Today you’ll hear from Plamen Atanassov, University of New Mexico; Luis Godinez, CIDETEQ; Gemma Reguera, Michigan State University; Juan Pablo Esquivel and Erik Kjeang, CSIC and Simon Fraser University; Jorg Kretzschmar (on behalf of Falk Harnisch), Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research; Gerardine Botte, Ohio University; Eric Wachsman, University of Maryland; Carl Hensman, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation representative, and our host E. Jennings Taylor.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Improving Access to Clean Water

Access to clean drinking water is something many take for granted. Crises like that of Flint, MI illuminate the fragility of our water infrastructure and how quickly access can be taken away. Even now, hundreds of millions of people around the world still lack access to adequate water.

Gaining access

But it’s not all negative. In the past 25 years, 2.6 billion people worldwide gained access to clean drinking water. This initiative stemmed from part of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 1990, attempting to cut the number of global citizens without access to clean drinking water in half. While this goal was achieved in 2010, there are still about 663 million without proper water and sanitation.

(MORE: Check out powerful images from the Water Front project.)

The divide

So who doesn’t have clean drinking water? Overall, urban areas tend to have greater access due to improved water infrastructure systems set in place. Access in rural areas has improved over the years, but people in these areas are still hit the hardest.

The major divide is most visible when analyzing the numbers by regions. Africa, China, and India are among the hardest hit, making up the majority of the 663 million citizens without access to water.


In order to meet increasing water demands and combat the devastating effects of climate change, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is looking toward scientific innovation to help quench the Persian Gulf’s thirst.

Increasing water shortage in UAE

The first issue that leads to UAE water shortages is the essentially non-existent rainfall paired with the country’s high water consumption. The UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi receives only 75mm of rainfall annually, with the country as a whole receiving less than 100mm of rainfall each year . Pair that with a water consumption that is the highest in the world, coming in at 82 percent above global average, and the situation starts to look serous.

But that’s not the only issue in the UAE’s water supply problems. Climate change is making this land even hotter and drier than ever before, with a study stating that the effects of climate change may make the Persian Gulf uninhabitable by 2071.

(MORE: See how ECS scientists are addressing water and sanitation issues around the world.)

For this reason, the UAE is turning toward German and Japanese researchers, offering a $5 million reward to researchers who could help solve this problem.


ECS Recognized for Global Humanitarian Efforts

P1110129The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) recently awarded the Power of A Gold Award to ECS for the Society’s exemplary humanitarian efforts. Though a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Society was able to establish the Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge to leverage the brainpower of some of the top scientists in the world in an effort to solve global issues in water and sanitation.

The ASAE Power of A Awards are presented annually to associations that use their resources to instill a positive change in the world. Receiving the award denotes an association’s commitment to improve world conditions, solve some of the most pressing global issues, and kick start innovation.

Other associations honored include the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for their Future Engineers 3D Space Challenges, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry for, and the Emergency Nurses Association for their Ebola Crisis Response.

Learn more about our Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge and ECS’s other humanitarian efforts, such as the ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship.

Stormwater as a Solution to Water Shortage

Communities are facing pressing water and sanitation issues across the globe. Recently, ECS tackled this issue through a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge. While ECS is working on a global level to encourage life-saving research in water and sanitation, researchers at Stanford University and working on innovative solutions to these issues in their own back yard.

Solving Sanitation

The water infrastructure that is currently in place in many semiarid and highly populated regions is reaching its limit. When taking recent droughts and population booms into consideration, many communities are beginning to fear water shortages. However, environmental engineer and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Senior Fellow, Richard Luthy, believes that answer to this problem has been right in front of us all along.

“These are billion-dollar problems,” said Luthy. “Meeting water needs in the future is going to depend a lot on how we reuse water and what we do with stormwater.”

Capture and Reuse Stormwater

Luthy is currently looking at ways to capture and treat stormwater to assist in alleviating current water supply issues in densely populated, semiarid environments. The environmental engineer is proposing a stormwater capture center that would be situated on 50-acres of currently unused space. Not only could the treatment plant help secure water infrastructure and the needs of the community, but it could also help the environment.

With stormwater comes runoff. This runoff is contaminated with harmful chemicals and often makes its way into oceans and streams. By recovering and cleaning a large portion of the stormwater, researchers believe that we will see a decrease in water pollution due to runoff.

Update: Making Poop Potable (Video)

gates-singalIn early January, we talked about Bill Gates’ initiative to make poop potable. As part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s mission to improve sanitation in underdeveloped countries, the business magnate and philanthropist took a sip of water that had been human waste just moments before.

The waste was being filtered through a treatment plant called the OmniProcessor. The plant was designed a part of the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Along with being able to make wastewater drinkable, the plant also produce usable electricity.

A Test Run in Africa

Now, the OminProcessor is going from its testing stages to real world application. The plant has taken its first trip to Dakar, Senegal, and while the technology is working, the real world is proving to pose some other challenges.


es-2015-008758_0004The cleaning of industrial wastewater is a persistent issue across the globe. If left untreated, these harmful waters could enter open watercourses, dispersing contaminants such as mercury and lead. Not only is this an immediate health risk, but it also threatens the entire ecosystem.

Modern wastewater treatment plants have been able to treat the water, but have not been very environmentally conscious. The typical plant produces CO2 by burning fossil fuels for power and the general decomposition of the materials in the wastewater. Not to mention, these things require a lot of power. About 12 trillion gallons of wastewater gets treated each year in the United States along, consuming an alarmingly high 3 percent of the nation’s energy grid.

Researchers have already produced power from pee and made poop potable; so why not develop a new type of wastewater treatment device that significantly lessens the severity of CO2 emissions and simultaneously captures greenhouse gases?


Beth Schademann, ECS’s Publications Specialist, recently came across a Huffington Post article detailing some life-saving innovations in water purification.

A simple bag called the Fieldtrate Lite has made its way to isolated communities that lack clean water in an effort to save lives through improved sanitation.

The water filtering bag is a development of Singapore’s WateROAM, who specialize in portable water filtration systems. The Fieldtrate Lite filters dirty water though membranes, turning it into potable water in a very short period of time. The bag is specifically appealing for disaster relief operations and rural communities without access to clean water.

“Our vision is to build a world where no man shall face prolonged thirst,” said David Pong, WateROAM’s chief executive.


The Excrevator will help put an end to emptying pit latrines by hand.Image: NC State University

The Excrevator will help put an end to emptying pit latrines by hand.
Image: NC State University

Critical technology gaps in water, sanitation, and hygiene are being faced all over the world. According to UNICEF, 2.5 billion people—36 percent of the world’s population—don’t have access to a toilet. Due to this, many people in the developing world either practice open defecation or utilize pit latrines. In turn, this leads to a high risk of contracting diseases ranging from typhoid to hepatitis.

Tate Rogers, an engineering student from North Carolina State University, decided that something has to be done about this. In 2011, Rogers began developing a device that would help those in the developing world more safely deal with raw sewage.

It’s four years later, and the project is still under way—but it’s beginning to come to fruition.


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