Over 100 million people in Southern Africa have no access to clean water – a situation the SafeWaterAfrica project is looking to remedy. This EU-funded research project aims to develop an autonomous and decentralised “Made in Africa” water treatment system for rural and peri-urban areas which is highly efficient in the degradation of harmful pollutants, as well as effective in killing microbiological contaminants.

Co-ordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST, the SafeWaterAfrica project’s partners include German, Italian and Spanish experts in new technologies for water purification as well as academic and industrial partners from South Africa and Mozambique.

Research project aims to bring safe drinking water to rural areas

The project’s water purification solution has been designed to work in rural areas that are cut off from public water and energy supplies. Covering the needs of 300 people, the solution has a capacity of 1000 litres per hour. The off-grid system is equipped with low-energy water treatment technology, with solar collectors on the roof of the container supplying the energy.

The solution uses Fraunhofer IST’s technology for electrochemical water purification. Using electrochemical oxidation, the technology purifies the water and removes bacteria and viruses.

Fraunhofer IST’s CabECO module contains diamond-coated conductive electrodes. A low potential of a few volts is applied between the electrodes, and the water flowing through is converted into ozone (O3 ) and hydroxyl (OH) radicals. O3 is one of the most efficient disinfectants, while OH is the strongest oxidising agent there is, according to Dr. Lothar Schäfer, Deputy Director of Fraunhofer IST.

“Together, they destroy all germs and organic impurities. This means we don't need chlorine or other chemicals for disinfection. The method for breaking down pollutants in water using diamond electrodes was developed by our institute and taken over in 2001 by our spin-off CONDIAS GmbH, which is also a partner in the project,” he says.

In field tests, the researchers were able to reduce the germ count by a factor of 1000 to 10000 and achieve the required level of disinfection. Moreover, the river water that the project partners are treating contains chlorine compounds, out of which hypochlorite – an additional oxidising agent – is produced. The advantage of hypochlorites is that they are consumed slowly over a long period, whereas ozone decomposes relatively quickly.

A combination of the modules for pre-treating water will be adapted to local conditions and the original state of the water in each area that it will be implemented. A demonstrator is currently being tested in South Africa, and the installation of another in Mozambique is planned for April 2019.

Image credit: https://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2019/january/clean-water-for-southern-africa.html


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