GOOD BAC­TE­RIA CLEANS WA­TER

Trek Magazine - - Editor’s Note -

A UBC-de­vel­oped sys­tem that uses bac­te­ria to turn non-potable wa­ter into drink­ing wa­ter is un­der­go­ing test­ing prior to be­ing in­stalled in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties in Canada and be­yond where clean drink­ing wa­ter is hard to come by.

“Ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter is a con­stant chal­lenge for mil­lions of peo­ple around the world,” says project lead Pierre Bérubé, a UBC civil en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor. “Our goal is to pro­vide a model for low-cost, ef­fec­tive wa­ter treat­ment for com­mu­ni­ties, and to help lo­cals help them­selves as they build, op­er­ate and even ex­pand their wa­ter treat­ment plants.”

The sys­tem con­sists of tanks of fi­bre mem­branes that catch and hold con­tam­i­nants – dirt, or­ganic par­ti­cles, bac­te­ria and viruses – while let­ting wa­ter fil­ter through. A com­mu­nity of ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria, or biofilm, func­tions as the sec­ond line of de­fence, work­ing in con­cert to break down pol­lu­tants.

“Mem­brane treat­ment can re­move over 99.99 per cent of con­tam­i­nants, mak­ing it ideal for mak­ing drink­ing wa­ter,” says Bérubé, who de­vel­oped the sys­tem with sup­port from the fed­er­ally funded Canada-In­dia re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion IC-IM­PACTS.

Mem­brane wa­ter treat­ment is not new, but Bérubé says the mod­i­fi­ca­tions de­vel­oped by his team pro­duce an even more ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion. “Our sys­tem is the first to use grav­ity to scour and re­move cap­tured con­tam­i­nants, which oth­er­wise ac­cu­mu­late and clog the mem­brane. It’s low-main­te­nance and as ef­fi­cient as con­ven­tional ap­proaches that need chem­i­cals and com­plex me­chan­i­cal sys­tems to keep the mem­branes clean,” he says. “The biofilm also helps by essen­tially eat­ing away at the cap­tured con­tam­i­nants. You just open and close a few valves ev­ery 24 hours in order to ‘lift’ the wa­ter and let grav­ity and bi­ol­ogy do their thing. This means sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings in time and money over the life­time of the sys­tem.”

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