Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Drinkable Book: A novel approach to drinking water treatment

Developments across the world of publishing in recent years have transformed the way we think about books, with many of us now opting for audiobook or Kindle versions of our favourite titles rather than purchasing a traditional paperback. However, one US scientist has taken the transformation of the humble book even further, creating one with pages that not only contain information on how and why drinking water should be filtered, but which can also be torn out to actually filter drinking water. 

he invention, which has been termed the “Drinkable Book” has been proven effective at filtering drinking water in initial field trials. Containing tiny particles of silver or copper, the pages kill bacteria in water as it passes through in order to make it safe to drink. The book successfully removed more than 99% of bacteria in trials at 25 contaminated water sources across South Africa, Ghana and Bangladesh, resulting in a level of contamination similar to US tapwater, researchers say. Although trace amounts of silver and copper leached into the water, these were well below safe limits.

Dr Teri Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon University, who has developed and tested the technology for the book over several years, presented her research at the 250th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, USA. “It’s directed towards communities in developing countries”, Dr Danovich said, adding that 663 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. According to the results of her tests, just one page of the book can clean up to 100 litres of water and one book could filter one person’s water supply for up to 4 years.

Dr Danovich's initial testing of the book was conducted in a lab using artificially contaminated water. Its success led to field trials which she has conducted over the last two years, working with charities Water Is Life and iDE. In most samples, the bacteria count in the water samples dropped to zero.

Dr Danovitch and her team are now hoping to step up the production of the paper and progress onto trials in which residents use the filters themselves. Having passed two key stages, the Drinkable Book has been shown to work both in the lab and on real water sources. Dr Lantagne, a colleague of Dr Danovitch, said that the next stage of the project will be creating "a commercialisable, scalable product design" for a device that the pages slot into. It is also currently unclear whether the book is able to kill other disease-killing micro-organisms in addition to bacteria.

Dr Kyle Doudrick commented, "Overall, out of all the technologies that are available, ceramic filters, UV sterilisation and so on - this is a promising one because it's cheap, and it's a catchy idea that people can get hold of and understand." Yet while the Drinking Book is certainly a clever solution to the problem of point-of-use water sterilisation, we should remember that it is only a sticking plaster over a much bigger problem. The real end goal should be a situation where everyone around the world has access to water which is clean and safe to drink at the source.

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