July 1 (UPI) -- The creators of a new instant water disinfectant, made using only hydrogen and the surrounding air, claim their invention is "millions of times more effective" at ridding water of viruses and bacteria than commercial purification methods.
In addition to revolutionizing municipal water cleaning, the inventors of the novel technique suggest their disinfectant can help safely and cheaply deliver potable water to communities in need.
Around the world, an estimated 780 million people are without reliable access to clean water, and millions more experience water scarcity at least once a month.
The technique -- described Thursday in the journal Nature Catalyst -- uses a catalyst of gold and palladium to instantly turn hydrogen and oxygen into hydrogen peroxide, a common disinfectant.
Every year, millions of tons of hydrogen peroxide are synthesized in factories. The disinfectant is then shipped and stored until it's ready to be used.
To keep it shelf stable and prevent degradation, other chemicals are added. Unfortunately, some of those additives limit commercial hydrogen peroxide's disinfecting abilities.
Commercial water purification systems sometimes supplement hydrogen peroxide with chlorine, but in large quantities, chlorine can react with naturally occurring compounds in water to produce toxins harmful to humans.
The new disinfectant, which can be made and used on site, eliminates the safety issues associated with commercial hydrogen peroxide and chlorine purification methods.
In lab tests, researchers found their catalyst yielded not only hydrogen peroxide, but a variety highly reactive compounds called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.
It turned out that these novel compounds were responsible for the majority of the new disinfectant's impressive antibacterial and antiviral abilities.
"The significantly enhanced bactericidal and virucidal activities achieved when reacting hydrogen and oxygen using our catalyst, rather than using commercial hydrogen peroxide or chlorination shows the potential for revolutionizing water disinfection technologies around the world," study co-author Graham Hutchings said in a press release.
"We now have proven one-step process where, besides the catalyst, inputs of contaminated water and electricity are the only requirements to attain disinfection," said Hutchings, a professor of chemistry at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute.
When compared to commercially produced hydrogen peroxide, scientists found their instant disinfectant was 10 million times more potent against viruses and bacteria.
The disinfectant not only surprisingly effective, but also exceptionally efficient, the researchers said.
"Crucially, this process presents the opportunity to rapidly disinfect water over timescales in which conventional methods are ineffective, whilst also preventing the formation of hazardous compounds and biofilms, which can help bacteria and viruses to thrive," Hutchings said.