Stanford scientists have found a new way to purify water that could save the lives of millions of people worldwide.
In a new paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Stanford team discovered how to combine hydrogen ions with an electrostatic charge to form hydrogen cyanide, a potentially useful disinfectant that is already being used in water purifiers worldwide.
The researchers say their findings are an important step toward a future in which people drink water that is free of harmful contaminants, including viruses, bacteria and harmful chemicals.
“We have shown that hydrogen cyanides can be made by electrolysis of hydrogen and hydrogen ions and that this process can be combined with electrostatic charges to produce a hydrogen cyanamide,” says Dr. Matthew J. Wills, a graduate student in chemical engineering who is the senior author of the paper.
“The key to the hydrogen cyanidation process is that hydrogen ions are free to charge to a higher state, which enables the hydrogen ions to be excited.”
“The hydrogen cyaniding process is very simple.
We start by separating hydrogen ions by adding a small amount of electrostatic hydrogen, which is a relatively inexpensive solution,” he explains.
“As the hydrogen is added to the solution, the hydrogen ion is attracted to the water molecule and releases hydrogen.
In this way, the water molecules are attracted to each other, which generates a charge.
Then, the ions can be attracted to other molecules and released.””
This process can also be used to create hydrogen cyanone,” adds Dr. Wams, “which is an organic compound that reacts with water to form hydroxyl groups, which can be used as an additive to make chemicals that can be easily incorporated into a water treatment system.”
The Stanford researchers are working on ways to convert hydrogen cyanones to hydroxylic acids, which would be used in industrial products.
Wils says he hopes to have a commercial product commercially available in the next few years.
The new research has been funded by the National Science Foundation.