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UV LEDs to provide access to clean water

Access to clean water is one of the most important challenges the world faces today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of the world’s population is estimated to live in areas where access to clean water is highly constrained. Ida Ångbäck is a PhD student at RISE and, over the next four years, will focus on finding more environmentally-friendly and accessible ways to purify water using UV LEDs.

Purifying water using UV light is currently carried out on both large and small scales at hydroelectric plants and in domestic systems. Existing UV fluorescent lamps, which contain toxic mercury, are unwieldy and fragile. This means that water purification is almost exclusively carried out in places with access to existing water infrastructure and a reliable electricity supply.

“We work with UV LEDs that are robust, compact and do not contain mercury,” says Ångbäck. “UV LEDs are rapidly evolving and becoming more energy efficient, which means that they will soon replace mercury lamps in current applications. In addition, the LEDs enable new applications such as portable and robust water purification reactors that could be powered by solar panels.”

More accessible and more efficient water purification

By designing an energy-efficient water purification reactor that can be used ‘on tap’, clean water can become a reality in parts of the world where there is currently no access to water infrastructure. But Ångbäck is also working on more effective techniques to kill microorganisms in water:

“One advantage that the LEDs have compared to traditional UV fluorescent lamps is that you have more freedom to optimise the light in order to best destroy the microorganisms. For example, we are looking at pulsating the light, which could destroy them more effectively. We are also exploring how we can combine wavelengths in the light, thus adapting the lamps to combat specific microorganisms.

For Ångbäck, her work on water purification is somewhat of a dream come true.

“My dream has always been to work for a sustainable world and to improve the lives of future generations. Being able to work with water – our most important resource – and attempting to streamline water purification is therefore very inspiring. The next four years will fly by and I will do everything I can to get useable results!”

Published: 2020-02-04