IDEAS For Us | March 3, 2015

Big Idea: Old and Natural Technologies May Be the Future of Clean Water

“What’s the Big Idea?” by Jonathan Pamplin

Big Idea: Old and Natural Technologies May Be the Future of Clean Water

When we think of technological progress, we tend to think of futuristic gadgets replacing obsolete ones. However, sometimes progress means looking backwards and refining the old, instead of replacing it with the new. A new trend in water purification technology has been making waves in recent years through humanitarian and tech circles, and that’s approaching old technologies and natural processes with modern twists.


Ceramic water filters, for example, which strain water through openings too small for large particles like dirt and sewage to pass, have been used since they were invented by British potter Henry Doulton in the 1800s. In the centuries since, innovations such as pathogen-killing silver coatings have made ceramic filters even more efficient, and they remain cost-effective enough that NGOs such as Resource Development International can mass-produce them for developing countries.

Filter comicAnother is sand filtration, a similar-acting technology that’s been used for over 6,000 years. In 2011, researchers created a graphite oxide-coated “super sand” capable of absorbing five times as much as regular sand. Not only can the graphite be secured through some mining waste operations, but it could possibly be modified to target specific physical or biological pollutants, making it both a cheap and versatile option for mass-distribution water filters.

Nature offers more than just the raw materials for good water filters, though; sometimes it does the job itself, with little more effort required than to set the process in motion. In 2013, researchers in India created a filter by loading the medicinal herb Tridax procumbens with aluminum ions, allowing it to purify over-fluoridated water. SODIS (solar disinfectant), the process of using the UV rays from sunlight to purify clear water, was augmented in 2012 by a team of researchers who showed that common table salt could be used to flocculate muddy water (that is, clump the clay particles together so they can settle out), thereby making the water treatable. And researchers in Scotland have identified several strains of bacteria capable of eating the toxins produced by algae blooms, which can’t be purified through conventional water filtration techniques.

Between new developments in old technologies and new ways to technologize nature, the future of clean water is looking clear.

-Jonathan Pamplin

[Primary source: 10 Innovations in Water Purification]

Super sand demonstration:

Flocculation demonstration:

Author Bio:
Jonathan Pamplin is a writer and activist whose dream is to make others’ lives better, however that may be. A recent graduate from Rollins College with a major in English and a minor in women’s studies, Jonathan has been a volunteer at several local nonprofits and an editor of several local journals and zines. He is the founder of The Emperor’s New Prose, a community art group and the primary host of IDeclare, a performance, art, and reading series about identity.