The great clean-up

From tackling micropollutants in wastewater to removing plastic waste from rivers, here are five solutions based on ETH expertise.
(Illustration: Benedikt Rugar)

Versatile filter system

ETH spin-off BluAct has developed a new kind of filter membrane. Made of whey proteins and activated carbon, it removes almost all contaminants from water – including lead, mercury, arsenic and even radioactive elements. The company’s innovative filtration devices are suitable not only for industrial wastewater treatment, but also for purifying drinking water in people’s homes. It can even be used to recover valuable metals such as platinum, gold and silver.

Detect and destroy

Water resources contaminated with pesticides or pharmaceutical products pose a threat to ecosystems and human health. ETH spin-off Oxyle aims to these micropollutants at their source – in chemical plants, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. The cleantech company has developed a catalyst-based technology that completely breaks down the micropollutants in the water instead of filtering them out.

Locally produced

Some two billion people around the world still lack access to clean drinking water. ETH start-up Openversum has developed an inexpensive water filter that can purify river water or water from polluted groundwater wells, making it safe to drink. Because the filter can be produced by small local manufacturers, it also helps create jobs. Following successful pilot projects, plans are now underway to introduce the system in Latin America and Africa.

Drinking water from the air

Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed the first zero-energy solution for harvesting drinking water from the atmosphere 24 hours a day. The technology relies on a condenser in the form of a self-cooling glass pane on which moisture from the air condenses. This innovative water-harvesting solution essentially allows the atmosphere to be used as a gigantic freshwater reservoir. Its use could help alleviate water shortages, especially in regions with sufficiently high humidity.

Autonomous waste-collection vessel

How can we reduce the amount of plastic waste in our oceans? A group of ETH students decided to start with a technological solution for rivers. As part of their Autonomous River Cleanup project, they are currently developing an autonomous vessel that uses robotics and machine learning to collect waste. The students are working closely with a number of European universities and are supported by various partners in the private sector.

Further information

This text appeared in the 23/02 issue of the ETH magazine Globe.