Invention by UB Team Could Revolutionize Decontamination and Purification of Water and Other Liquids

Development funded by UB Center for Advanced Technology

Release Date: March 18, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the turn of a screw, a team of University at Buffalo engineers and scientists has invented a pump to be used in a device that may help revolutionize the decontamination and purification of water, juices and other liquids.

Working closely with Synergena, Inc., the team led by Abani Patra, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has designed a screw pump that could dramatically improve a method of decontamination that uses photonics to eradicate -- within minutes -- dangerous bacteria, viruses and other contaminants, such as E. coli, salmonella and anthrax.

Called Synergistic Isogenous Active Decontamination (SIAD), the method was developed by Synergena, which may license from UB the screw-pump invention for manufacture of the SIAD ER N-T Pasteurizer (Equidistributed Radiant energy Non-Thermal Pasteurizer).

"The screw pump invention by the Patra team at UB, coupled with Synergena's unique SIAD technology, offers tremendous potential in municipal/wastewater purification, decontamination of Great Lakes-polluting ballast from ocean vessels and commercial processing of human-consumption liquids such as orange juice and apple cider," says Robert Duthie, CEO of Synergena.

"The SIAD process offers unprecedented potential to destroy deadly microorganisms," Duthie adds. "It outperforms any other system -- chlorination, heat pasteurization, filtration and single-spectrum UV radiation -- by a wide margin."

Development of Patra's screw pump and subsequent testing was funded by an $183,000 grant from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (CAT), a program of the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR). Administered by the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, CAT provides necessary gap funding to promote the development and commercialization of UB research.

UB has filed a provisional patent application on the screw pump.

With the rotating screw at its center, the SIAD ER N-T Pasteurizer continuously pumps fluid in and out in a manner that allows the high-energy lamp within the device to uniformly penetrate a liquid -- even dense liquids -- and increase a microorganism's exposure to the lamp, improving the killing efficiency of the SIAD process.

As the screw rotates, it draws and discharges liquid through the device in a continuous flow. This action -- based on the classical Archimedean-screw principle for transporting water -- obviates the need for an external pump to create liquid flow.

The entire device, the researchers say, can be contained within a 2-inch in diameter by 6-inch tube that can be fitted onto a faucet for home water filtration and purification. Larger models can be outfitted at the point where a liquid enters a facility, such as near a home's water meter, well pump, or the point of entry for the water line into a house, office, factory, business, hospital, school, or other buildings.

In lab tests performed at UB, the SIAD process within two to 30 minutes totally eradicated trillions of E. coli, salmonella and B. cereus (an anthrax surrogate) microorganisms contained in seven gallons of water, apple juice and orange juice, respectively, without altering the liquids' taste or nutritional components.

The SIAD process also totally eradicated within 30 minutes the toxic chemical phenol -- used in the manufacture of several consumer products -- in seven gallons of industrial wastewater.

In comparative tests, other purification processes took much longer to destroy the pathogens in the liquids, or were unable to do so because of the liquids' density.

The lab tests were performed by Homer Reynolds, a researcher in the Department of Oral Biology, UB School of Dental Medicine; Philip LoVerde, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Peter Horvath, associate professor of nutrition and physiology in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.

"The tests confirm that this is absolutely the best system out there for decontamination of liquids," says Patra. "It kills microorganisms that the others don't kill and it kills them faster."

Computer-simulated tests of the SIAD method using the new screw pump design, conducted by Patra and mechanical-engineering graduate student S. Xie, demonstrated the potential of the invention to enhance SIAD's effectiveness and efficiency, creating new opportunities for its use.

As a filter and purifier for municipal water or bottled spring water, the device can destroy microorganisms untouched by standard chlorination or ordinary water filters, according to the researchers. It can, for example, destroy cryptosporidium, a harmful pathogen that is leeching into municipal water systems and into spring water, according to a recent Cornell University study.

The device has obvious applications in the war against terrorism as a safeguard for U.S. water supplies, the researchers say.

The U.S. military also can put the device to work to decontaminate drinking water in the field, and it can be very helpful in countries where water-related diseases are prevalent, according to the researchers.

The apple-cider industry can use the device as a pasteurizer to kill E. coli occurring in fresh pressed cider, the researchers say. The same can be done with freshly produced orange juice, where salmonella contamination is a danger. Unlike standard heat pasteurization, the SIAD device will kill harmful organisms without altering the taste or nutritional makeup of juices, as proven and documented in the microbiological and nutritional studies conducted by UB.

The UB CAT, one of 15 such centers across New York State, focuses on biomedical and bioengineering industry-university collaborative research projects that can lead to development of useful products with commercial potential for New York State companies, and supports the mission of STOR to commercialize the discoveries of UB for the public good. Since 2001, CAT has provided 22 such projects with more than $3 million in funding.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

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