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Pure Water for Haiti, Afghanistan: Just Add Bacteria

Pentagon-backed researchers have come up with a novel new way to purify water: Just add bacteria.

Scientists at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) have successfully designed portable, efficient, bacteria-based water treatment units. Two of the devices are on their way to Army bases in Afghanistan, and the research team is in talks with the Pentagon about sending a working prototype to help relief efforts in Haiti.

The systems, called “bio-reactors,” clean putrid water using the same bacteria you’d find in a handful of dirt. The bacteria filter the water, then eat up the sludge that’s a common byproduct of waste treatment. It’s all done in less than 24 hours, and from devices smaller than a standard shipping crate.

To put that into perspective, an average waste-water treatment process can take up to a month, and produces toxic sludge as an inevitable byproduct.

Researchers isolated a set of bacterium to do the filtering, and they’ve now patented that combination. The Army has already ordered six units, and now that the team has the bacterial combination mastered, they’re confident that the project can quickly be scaled to hundreds of units — assuming the Defense Department keeps up the funding.

They probably will, given the ongoing logistical challenges the military’s been up against in Afghanistan, where troops need convoys of water trucks because of a lack of purified local sources. The Marine Corps’ Marine and Energy Assessment Team (MEAT) estimates that a better option for water purification could mean 50 fewer military trucks on the roads, according to InsideDefense.com. Less dependency on fuel would add up: Right now, a single soldier in Afghanistan uses 22 gallons of fuel per day.
 
 

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