Big changes are happening in the small microscopic world of filtration, and we think it’s important to celebrate them.
We’ve created a roundup of some of the biggest trends and innovations that have appeared in recent years from across the filtration world.
They all represent a chance to learn and experiment with our own approach to creating microfilters here at Smart Separations.
1. Building membranes with bacteria
Bacteria was the key to modern water treatment. ‘Scmutzdecke’ is the name for the biofilm that forms on the surface of slow sand filters. It is composed of bacteria, fungi and protozoa that metabolise contaminants found in water, helping to purify it by removing up to 99% of bacteria.
Several researchers at the National Academy of Engineering in the USA are once again using bacteria to filter water. But, this time, they are using them to build membranes.
The process involves the bacteria Gluconacetobacter hansenii: a type of bacteria commonly found during the fermentation of alcohol. This bacteria is placed in water and fed a sugary substance that causes it to form a membrane made of nanofibers.
This layer of nanofibers is then combined with graphene oxide and processed until the original bacteria is killed. When exposed to sunlight, the graphene oxide releases heat and kills bacteria going through the membrane.
The ability to kill off bacteria using only light allows this ultrafiltration membrane to process water quicker than current commercial methods.
2. Using wood to remove salt from water
One of the biggest concerns within filtration is energy consumption. Much of the world is without secure access to clean drinking water and climate change threatens to reduce existing supplies even further.
Desalination is likely to become more important but for it to help solving the water crisis, it is going to require a lot of intense filtration to be viable and, in turn, a lot of energy.
One solution coming out of the University of Princeton is a membrane made out of wood.
The process involves taking a piece of wood, chemically treating it to remove extra fibers and giving it a water-resistant surface.
During desalination, one side of the membrane is heated so that water is evaporated and its vapour travels through the material to the cooler side of the membrane, leaving the salt behind.
As not all of the water needs to be treated here, this method could potentially reduce the energy used in desalination considerably.
While this technique is currently slower than traditional plastic membranes and may have limited application outside of desalination, it is, nevertheless, promising research.
3. Using filters to monitor biodiversity
In a time where the environment all around is under threat, it is crucial that we can measure the health of the biodiversity and ecosystems that are at its foundations.
For some remote and fragile parts of the world, this can be difficult to do. Researchers are reluctant to introduce large machines into these areas and hence low-tech solutions are always preferred.
One of the solutions proposed by researchers at the University of Salford may be in the form of filtration: sponges to be precise. Animals leave DNA wherever they go and this can be used to measure where different species are congregating, alongside their numbers.
One way to collect this data is to sample the water nearby and use intensive filtration to examine the DNA in it. A more elegant solution, however, may be using sponges. Sponges can collect DNA and naturally filter out water.
This would allow us to monitor local biodiversity, while our only impact on the environment would be a simple sponge.
4. Microfiltration as an artform
When we talk about microfiltration, we’re usually focused on how it can be used in scientific research, medicine, sanitation and fighting air pollution. However, filtration plays an important role in many different systems and avenues, including the performing arts.
Filtration takes centre stage as part of Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia, a mesmerising mix of dance, circus and theatre that will be touring the UK in 2020.
One of the show’s highlights is its use of water. 6,000 litres are used during every performance to rain down on performers and audience members alike. This creates a unique filtration challenge as this water is recycled between shows.
To avoid a major health hazard, the company has created a filtration system that allows the water to be quickly filtered and disinfected, thousands of litres at a time all within a travelling big-top tent.
Advances in microfiltration have allowed acts like this to responsibly push the boundaries of live performances and bring a new dimension to the arts.
Microfiltration Innovations at Smart Separations
At Smart Separations, we’re matching the innovation we see around us with our own ceramic microfiltration membrane. Its unique structure and manufacturing process provide tailored filtration for thousands of systems.
If you’d like to find out more about what we’re doing at Smart Separations, then please get in touch.