LED It Flow: SoLED Provides Innovative Approach To Water Disinfection
Turning on a faucet to get a clean stream of freshwater is just not the reality for most of the world. At least two billion people worldwide use a drinking water source contaminated with feces, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
That’s why Professor Hadas Mamane and PHD candidate Dana Pousty, of Tel Aviv University, have come together to found SoLED, a UV LED-based water disinfection device designed to bring purified water to infrastructure-limited areas using a patented technology developed after years of research and testing.
SoLED is a small and portable device powered by the sun, and designed for rural areas with little to no electricity. It can be connected to any pipeline, filtration system, or water source. The water streams through the device and is purified by a UV light.
“LEDs are light emitting diodes. They are the small diodes that you have in traffic lights and in electrical appliances, like small dots of light. Some know that LEDs come in traffic lights in green, red — but what many are not aware is that they also come in the UV (ultraviolet) range,” Prof. Mamane, head of the Environmental Engineering Program and the Water-Energy (WE) Laboratory at the School of Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University, tells NoCamels.
According to Mamane, what we see with our eyes is within the visible spectrum and below that is the ultraviolet spectrum. Our eyes cannot perceive UV light, but it’s what gets absorbed in the genetic material of any cell and makes a change, which does not allow replication.
“If a microbe bacteria absorbs UV light, it will make a change in DNA,” Mamane adds, “And that microbe will not be able to produce offspring, or the next generation of microbes and therefore, it does not result in disease because disease means the microbe is entering our body. UV works as a physical technology where light shines on water and kills whatever is in it. Of course, we don’t want to be exposed to it. So we created a special reactor design, where the water streams through, absorbs the UV radiation and the microbes and viruses are killed.”
The device features an efficient UV-LED reactor with a combination of frequencies based on maximum disinfection at low cost in a solar powered or off grid system. The reactor can be integrated into existing water filtration systems or function as a standalone product integrated into any pipe.
On June 14, SoLED was inaugurated into The Asper Fund for Bringing Clean Water To The World, a new fund spearheaded by the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University. Last year, the company was a recipient of the IUVA 2021 RadLaunch Award, honoring tech developers working on materials, optics, design, and more. The company, which aims to be a non-profit organization, has also received research funds from the Israel Innovation Authority, the Israeli government’s support arm.
Challenge and opportunities
Prof. Mamane and Pousty have spent the last five years researching and testing UV LED disinfection methods at Mamane’s TAU lab and in the field. To conduct this research and develop technologies that could fit areas more complex for the operation and treatment of water, they have traveled to India, Tanzania, Africa, Morocco, and Mexico.
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Mamane, who has a self-proclaimed “passion” to work on environmental issues, says one of the things that most interested her was how to provide safe water in low and middle income settings, especially in rural areas.
“That’s kind of the incentive for SoLED,” she tells NoCamels, noting that in her research with the water lab, she discovered that while many may treat water at the household level, it can still have biological contaminants (bacteria, viruses, dust, pollen, animal dander, to name a few.)
“Other people may feel good about the water they’re drinking, but we found in various locations that up to 30 percent of the water stored in a household setting in a rural area may be contaminated with E. coli,” she explain, “If you know about the statistics – that one child every minute due to biological contamination of water – then the magnitude of getting diarrhea out of contaminated water is huge,” she explains.
The challenges of delivering safe drinking water to rural areas include lack of infrastructure, lack of resources to support water treatment (little or no electricity or inadequate piping systems), and relying on the local population for water system maintenance, who are unskilled or unequipped to do so.
Traditional methods of chlorination may also not be enough to eliminate the problem of viruses “and there might be complexities in bringing chlorine because it may come from far away, so the supply chain may be problematic,” Mamane tells NoCamels. “Or if they don’t have water in a pipeline, then there’s no water pressure. So it’s difficult to pass water through a filter when when there’s no pressure. These kinds of challenges make us think how we can develop technologies that fit those areas.”
But, she says, people are skeptical to work with communities where the client does not pay for the product and “that needs to change.”
“It’s very important for us to work for the people we want to serve. We’re not interested in developed countries, we’re interested in working with developing communities. So it’s very important and critical for us to work with the people we want to serve and also those who have the same vision. We’ve been told many times that it’s not possible to develop an economic model that will work in these communities. I disagree with that.”
“We believe that everything is possible, we just need to put our mind to it. We need to make it a reality,” she adds.