Could this research collaboration solve the global clean water crisis?
LifeSaver is partnering with scientists at Manchester University’s National Graphene Institute (NGI) to develop a water filtration system using graphene.
The 18-month research project will explore ways to use the material to remove even the smallest contaminant in water, a technology researchers have in the past said would benefit millions facing clean water scarcity in the developing world.
Graphene is a two-dimensional one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. A building block of Graphite, which is used in pencil tips, this “miracle” or “wonder” material is said to be the world’s lightest, strongest, thinnest and best heat-and-electricity-conducting material ever discovered.
It is also the subject of numerous research in a variety of fields, with researchers believing its use and applications could revolutionise whole industries everywhere.
LifeSaver, a UK-based water filtration manufacturer, hopes to create a proprietary and patented system able to eliminate an even wider range of hazardous contaminants than currently removed by its current high-performance ultra-filtration process.
The firm said that by incorporating graphene into its current water purification technology, it hopes to reduce the sieve size of its hollow-fibre filtration membrane from the current 15 nanometres to between one and three nanometres.
One nanometre is one-billionth of a metre. At 15 nanometres, the filtration is able to remove bacteria, microbial cysts and viruses. At one nanometre, LifeSaver’s system would be able to remove a lot more from drinking water supplies, from heavy metals to pesticides, as well as even nuclear particles.
“This partnership with NGI excites all of us at LifeSaver as it provides a potential game-changing opportunity in our patented technology platform,” company chairman Chris Marsden said.
“This, in turn, allows us to continue to provide leading edge technological solutions to our key global humanitarian, military and retail markets.”
LifeSaver reportedly first approached the NGI in 2017 with the hopes of forming a partnership to develop graphene technology for its filtration system. The NGI, which is the UK’s national centre for graphene and two-dimensional materials researched, jumped at the opportunity, recognising the firm’s experience and the potential to apply graphene technology in water filtration.
“Making a graphene-based portable water filter was our dream, and this collaboration with LifeSaver will enable that dream to be a reality sooner than later,” said Professor Rahul Nair, who will lead the project at the University of Manchester.
“The University of Manchester is the world-leading centre for graphene membrane development, and LifeSaver has the expertise in making a portable water filter.
“This is a great example of a collaborative project where we are trying to combine two independently developed technologies into one, to enhance the quality and availability of drinking water for those who need it most.”
Manchester University is the home of graphene. Although researchers had always known of its existence, it was only in 2004 when it was finally successfully extracted from graphite by Professors Andrew Geim and Kostya Novoselov. The two men later won a Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work.
Today, researchers around the world have been exploring the material’s potential. According to the university, “combining all of graphene’s amazing properties could create an impact of the scale last seen with the Industrial Revolution.” Among others, its application areas include transport, medicine, electronics, energy and defence.
LifeSaver was formed in the UK in 2007 to address the need for quick access to clean drinking water following the Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurrican Katrina natural disasters. The firm’s first prototype became the world’s first portable water filter capable of eliminating the smallest-known waterborne viruses.