A new approach in the treatment of drinking water

In the industrialized world, drinking water undergoes a rigorous purification process to remove harmful contaminants. In the developing world, more than a billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water.

Mark Benjamin, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is using a common water treatment additive, aluminum oxide, in an innovative new way to improve conventional water filtration processes. In laboratory studies Benjamin heated aluminum oxides to produce microparticles that form a thin layer over polymer filtration membranes. The layer protected the membranes from fouling and, surprisingly, removed pollutants from the water far more effectively and efficiently.

“In this approach, the aluminum oxide layer is the critical component, and the membrane becomes just a support structure,” Benjamin said. “This simple, low-tech advance suggests we can use much cheaper membranes and significantly decrease treatment costs.”

The UW Center for Commercialization awarded Benjamin a Commericalization Gap Fund award in 2008 to continue work confirming the science behind his approach. “Patrick Shelby in the UW Center for Commercialization has not only provided key market information and potential licensees, but also helped me understand how industry views my technology and how to attract their attention,” Benjamin said.

The next step will be to demonstrate practicality for municipal, industrial, and even portable field uses of the scaled-up prototype.