ETH student develops filter for clean water around the world

22.07.2014 | News

By: Anna Maltsev | 6 comments

An innovative filter makes it possible to purify water more quickly, simply and economically than ever before. The developers hope the device will soon play a big role development aid, and they are looking for investors to help them achieve this goal.

The researchers describe their project in this video, which they hope will help them to find as many backers as possible.

Roughly 780 million people around the world have no access to clean drinking water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases every year. ETH student Jeremy Nussbaumer set himself the goal of making a contribution to solving this problem. Working with researchers from a group led by Wendelin Stark, head of the Functional Materials Laboratory, the 23-year-old spent a year researching a membrane filter and developing a prototype.

“What makes our DrinkPure filter unique is that you can screw it on to virtually any plastic bottle. It doesn’t require a pump or a reservoir, so it’s very easy to use,” explains the student from the canton of Aargau. “You simply screw the filter onto a bottle containing polluted water, then you can put it straight in your mouth and take a drink.” Weighing less than 100 grams, DrinkPure is considerably lighter than most other filters, and the flow pressure is so high that you can purify as much as a litre of water in a minute just by squeezing the bottle with your hand. Another benefit is that the unit is less expensive and easier to manufacture than most conventional filters. These qualities, says Nussbaumer, make the filter ideal for development aid projects.

Three-stage filter system with special membrane

The filter’s simple functioning. (photo: ETH Zurich)  
The filter’s simple functioning. (photo: ETH Zurich)

Three filtering stages make DrinkPure one of the most reliable devices currently on the market. First, a pre-filter captures large particles such as sand and plant fragments; the second stage consists of an activated charcoal powder that primarily removes undesirable odours and chemical contaminants; the third and most important part of the filter is a polymer membrane that removes bacteria. In fact, this membrane does its job more reliably than virtually any other water filter intended for outdoor use.

Two ETH doctoral students developed this polymer membrane and patented it three years ago. It is based on a new manufacturing process that shows great potential. It has been used in a wide range of other applications since then – for example, in a non-toxic outdoor jacket (as reported in ETH News) – and its use as a battery separator is also being investigated.

First filters to Africa next January

ETH student Jeremy Nussbaumer (23) with his DrinkPure filter. (photo: Anna Maltsev/ETH Zurich)  
ETH student Jeremy Nussbaumer (23) with his DrinkPure filter. (photo: Anna Maltsev / ETH Zurich)

A year ago, Nussbaumer learned of the project to further develop this membrane for use in a water filter. The mechanical engineering student was so enthusiastic about the idea that after completing his bachelor’s degree, he decided to postpone his master’s degree for a year in order to devote himself to this project. “I was really looking forward to finally being able to do something tangible and useful. Of course, we hoped that the membrane would prove suitable for a water filter, but we never expected such excellent test results,” says Nussbaumer proudly.

In order that the research team can manufacture enough filters to use in developing countries, they are looking for financial support (see Box). They will use the proceeds to purchase the tools they need to manufacture the filters. “As for what is left over, we will use 80% to produce the filter and transport it to Africa and 20% to further develop the concept,” says Nussbaumer. They expect to have the first filters completed in January 2015; they will be sent to project supporters and to Africa for use in a test phase.

Perfect for travellers and walkers

It is still not certain whether DrinkPure will be available in future in retail stores. Alongside its suitability for development aid, the device is also perfect for travellers and walkers. “Quickly screw it on a bottle and you can take a drink from any pond or river without a second thought,” explains Nussbaumer. “I’m actually not a serious walker myself, but if I were to go I would be sure to take the filter along.”

The filter ensures a supply of safe drinking water on outdoor trips as well. (photo: ETH Zurich)  
The filter ensures a supply of safe drinking water on outdoor trips as well. (photo: ETH Zurich)

Crowdfunding

The project is presented by the young research team on the Indiegogo platform. Investors can support the project with an amount ranging from 5 to 5,000 US dollars. Depending on the contribution, a donor can expect various perks, such as a thank-you video from the project leader. With a contribution of 89 dollars, a backer receives a filter and for 500 dollars, 10 units will be sent to Africa. Anyone can support the project until 20 August 2014 via the following link: www.indiegogo.com

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6 Comments

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  • Waseem ul haq 24 July 2014 21:35

    Very good achievement and sounds very nice especially from a humanitarian aid point of view, where such water filters can save families from diseases/deaths. I am working with Swiss Humanitarian Aid in Pakistan as a Programme Officer Water.

     
     
  • Ken Martin 25 July 2014 02:40

    Sounds great, how many litres of water will it purify before it has to be discarded? I realise it will depend on the quality of the water it purifies but an estimate is good enough.

     
     
  • Pradeep Jain 26 July 2014 03:57

    Congratulations and thanks for such a pioneering work, which is going to help a vast section of humanity. Keep it up. I have a small query: Can we develop a membrane good enough to remove about 50% of ware, by filtration from Buffalo Milk? Here in India we make many milk products where the milk is first concentrated by evaporation which requires a very high amount of fuel/energy and the end product becomes little pinkish. People prefer whiter end product. Please let me know.

     
     
  • Taylor Baybutt 28 July 2014 23:31

    Does it take out fluoride and/or pharmaceuticals?

     
     
  • Nadia Low 31 July 2014 19:00

    This looks great! My husband and I have been working in South Sudan and are returning in November long term. We are looking for the best option for water purification and would love to know if there is any chance of organising to get a DrinkPure filter or more for our trip and for the children's home. Is there any chance of getting a few before we travel?

     
     
  • Mohammad Irfan Durrani 6 January 2015 09:07

    This is a brilliant product. The most different from other products is that it clean the water when you drink it. Zero chances of contamination. The filter can be long lasting if the 1st stage filter block the large particles inside the bottle which can be back washed. Thumbs up from my side.

     
     
 
 
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