Spark award for a water filter with huge potential


The Spark Award for the most promising invention at ETH Zurich of 2018 went to Raffaele Mezzenga, Sreenath Bolisetty und Qingrui Zhang. They developed an affordable filter which removes fluoride efficiently from water. The filter could make the life safer for those 260 million people who are living in areas with high concentration of fluoride in the ground water.


More than 200 inventions were made at ETH Zurich last year. 109 are protected by patents. The best five of those 100 were selected as finalists for the eighth edition of the Spark Award. The five projects demonstrated the broad range of cutting-edge research at the ETH. One team is developing a new interface which allows anybody to develop their own game, another team focusses on a new technology to send information not only through cables but also in between these cables which would decrease the number of necessary cables. A third group is aiming at making a certain type of chemical reaction that is import for medical applications simple and safe. The goal of the winning project is to make drinking water safe for those people living in areas with high concentrations of fluoride in ground water. Fluoride can trigger a disease called fluorosis. According to WHO 260 million people worldwide are threatened by fluoride contamination. The winning team- Raffaele Mezzenga, Sreenath Bolisetty und Qingrui Zhang – has developed an affordable and efficient solution for this challenge. For its filter the team uses protein nanofibrils from very inexpensive protein sources such as milk protein. The fibrils are used to produce nanoparticles. In a second step, membranes are generated with the fibril-nanoparticle hybrids. These membranes show unprecedent efficiency in removing fluoride from water.  The membranes have already been tested on samples from the groundwater of the city of Rome. These preliminary tests, published in Angewandte Chemie earlier this year showed that the technology outperforms existing methods. The next step is to conduct pilot projects in order to test the technology on larger quantities of water. Differently from Prof. Mezzenga and Prof. Zhang, who have primarily an academic interest in the project, Sreenath Bolisetty, one of the inventors, who has also founded the ETH spin-off BluAct, is interested to push forward the technology from an industrial stand point and will prepare the market entry of the unique water filter, according to a report in ETH news. The jury picked this project as the winner not only because of the huge market potential but also because of the benefits for society.Videos about the winning project and the other finalists can be found on the ETH website. (SOK / SK)