His Tata Center-developed technology uses plant xylem to remove contaminants.
Access to clean drinking water is a problem for more than a billion people worldwide. To find a solution, Professor Rohit Karnik looked to nature.
Karnik and Tata Fellow Krithika Ramchander have shown that xylem tissue found in vascular plants (such as trees) is effective at filtering bacteria and other contaminants out of water. They see an opportunity to use readily available material to create low-cost, easy-to-use water filters that could be deployed in rural India and other settings where clean water is hard to come by.
They have received a $150,000 grant from the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) to translate their research into a commercial product. From the announcement on MIT News:
A new project led by Rohit Karnik, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and co-PI Amy Smith, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-director of D-Lab, takes a very different approach to water purification. Addressing the largely unmet need to provide safe and affordable drinking water to very low-income groups, Karnik is developing low-cost water filters that exploit the natural filtration capabilities of xylem tissue in wood. Particularly in regions lacking access to piped water supply systems, microbial contamination is a major threat to health. With J-WAFS Solutions funding, Karnik’s lab will work with Amy Smith to validate filtration performance in the lab and in the field, while also assessing the usability, desirability, and affordability of low-cost filters and devising a strategy for local manufacture and commercialization.
Tata Center-affiliated faculty Alan Hatton also received a J-WAFS grant.