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Acc Chem Res. 2019 May 21;52(5):1187-1195. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.8b00578. Epub 2019 Apr 3.

Water Disinfection in Rural Areas Demands Unconventional Solar Technologies.

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Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) , Yale University , New Haven , Connecticut 06511 , United States.


Providing access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for protecting public health. Vast improvements in drinking water quality have been witnessed during the last century, particularly in urban areas, thanks to the successful implementation of large, centralized water treatment plants and the distribution of treated water via underground networks of pipes. Nevertheless, infection by waterborne pathogens through the consumption of biologically unsafe drinking water remains one of the most significant causes of morbidity and mortality in developing rural areas. In these areas, the construction of centralized water treatment and distribution systems is impractical due to high capital costs and lack of existing infrastructure. Improving drinking water quality in developing rural areas demands a paradigm shift to unconventional, innovative water disinfection strategies that are low cost and simple to implement and maintain, while also requiring minimal infrastructure. The implementation of point-of-use (POU) disinfection techniques at the household- or community-scale is the most promising intervention strategy for producing immediate health benefits in the most vulnerable rural populations. Among POU techniques, solar-driven processes are considered particularly instrumental to this strategy, as developing rural areas that lack safe drinking water typically receive higher than average surface sunlight irradiation. Materials that can efficiently harvest sunlight to produce disinfecting agents are pivotal for surpassing the disinfection performance of conventional POU techniques. In this account, we highlight recent advances in materials and processes that can harness sunlight to disinfect water. We describe the physicochemical properties and molecular disinfection mechanisms for four categories of disinfectants that can be generated by harvesting sunlight: heat, germicidal UV radiation, strong oxidants, and mild oxidants. Our recent work in developing materials-based solar disinfection technologies is discussed in detail, with particular focus on the materials' mechanistic functions and their modes of action for inactivation of three common types of waterborne pathogens (i.e., bacteria, virus, and protozoa). We conclude that different solar disinfection technologies should be applied depending on the source water quality and target pathogen due to significant variations on susceptibility of microbial components to disparate disinfectants. In addition, we expect that ample research opportunities exist on reactor design and process engineering for scale-up and improved performance of these solar materials, while accounting for the infrastructure demand and capital input. Although the practical implementation of new treatment techniques will face social and economic challenges that cannot be overlooked, novel technologies such as these can play a pivotal role in reducing water borne disease burden in rural communities in the developing world.

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