Researcher develops novel wastewater treatment fabric

April 18, 2014 by Karen B. Roberts
The Gates Foundation has funded research on a novel wastewater treatment fabric being developed by a UD team led by Steven Dentel. Credit: Evan Krape

Each year in India, waterborne diseases sicken approximately 37.7 million people. One and a half million children die of diarrhea alone, according to a report by WaterAid.

In the developing world, open pit latrines are common, but they pose a significant risk to and the environment. Open pit latrines can be as sophisticated as an outhouse or as simple as a trench in the ground.

A team at the University of Delaware has reinvented the common latrine by adding a breathable fabric as a simple way to protect the nearby groundwater and wells from contamination, while also protecting sanitation workers from exposure to pathogens.

The work was originally funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations Fund.

Now with $250,000 in additional funding from the nonprofit, the UD research team, led by environmental engineering professor Steve Dentel, is piloting the membrane technology in Kanpur, India, one of the country's largest industrial cities. He is collaborating with representatives from WaterAid, a nonprofit organization.

WaterAid's research director, Puneet Srivastava, contacted Dentel after learning about his research team's innovative approach, which uses a breathable membrane in a fabric similar to that used in sports and camping gear.

The Gates Foundation has funded research on a novel wastewater treatment fabric being developed by a UD team led by Steven Dentel. Credit: Evan Krape

"In first world countries, we use this type of fabric to keep from getting wet. But in the developing world it could be a key to basic health and sanitation," said Dentel, a recognized expert on waste processing.

The membrane captures the waste and allows water to evaporate over time, leaving everything else behind. The waste gradually dries, and clean water is released.

In Kanpur slums, Dentel and Srivastava identified family dwellings where the human waste can be deposited into a 55-gallon drum lined with the breathable fabric. Ventilation holes will allow the waste to dry out, while retaining and decreasing .

While the process relies on a sophisticated technology, the application must be simple and affordable if it's to be sustainable in developing countries. The membrane also must be reusable many times, which the research team's tests indicate it is.

"The goal is to get installations in place before India's rainy season begins this June," said Dentel.

At the same time, Dentel is working with UD engineering colleagues Daniel Cha and Paul Imhoff to apply the technology in wastewater treatment facilities in the U.S. and in advanced economies overseas, particularly South Korea.

"This could be a game-changer in wastewater and sludge management, involving billions of dollars per year," said Cha.

Explore further: Cranfield to develop innovative waterless toilet

Related Stories

Cranfield to develop innovative waterless toilet

August 16, 2012

Cranfield University is to develop a waterless, hygienic toilet with the potential to transform the lives of the 2.5 billion people worldwide without access to basic sanitation, thanks to $800,000 funding from the ‘Reinvent ...

Recycling astronaut urine for energy and drinking water

April 9, 2014

On the less glamorous side of space exploration, there's the more practical problem of waste—in particular, what to do with astronaut pee. But rather than ejecting it into space, scientists are developing a new technique ...

Recommended for you

The universe's most miraculous molecule

October 9, 2015

It's the second most abundant substance in the universe. It dissolves more materials than any other solvent. It stores incredible amounts of energy. Life as we know it would not be possible without it. And although it covers ...

New method facilitates research on fuel cell catalysts

October 8, 2015

While the cleaning of car exhausts is among the best known applications of catalytic processes, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Practically the entire chemical industry relies on catalytic reactions. Therefore, catalyst ...

Trio wins Nobel Prize for mapping how cells fix DNA damage

October 7, 2015

Tomas Lindahl was eating his breakfast in England on Wednesday when the call came—ostensibly, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It occurred to him that this might be a hoax, but then the caller started speaking ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.