With the never-ending struggle for potable water by many Nigerians, it is necessary that the federal government considers more viable technologies that could foster the availability of this most basic of amenities. In this report, HAUWA MAHMUD KOLO writes on a technology that could enhance access to drinking water and even power.
Undeniably, water is life. In fact, experts have argued that no one could survive beyond three days without drinking water. This only goes to show the fundamentality of water to life and underscores how tragic it is that in many parts of Nigeria today, even in urban areas, the non-availability of potable water is still an issue.
It was recently published in the May 4 issue of Science Daily that researchers have developed an aluminium alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert non-potable water into drinking water, while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity.
According to a professor of electrical and computer engineering in Purdue University, Jerry Woodall, such technology might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations.
“The alloy contains aluminium, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing the alloy in fresh water or salt water causes a spontaneous reaction, splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The hydrogen could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing water in the form of steam as a by-product.
“The steam would kill any bacteria contained in the water, and then it would condense to purified water, so you are converting undrinkable water to drinking water,” Woodall says.
Woodall envisions a new portable technology for regions that are not connected to a power grid, such as villages in Africa and other remote areas.
“There is a big need for this sort of technology in places lacking connectivity to a power grid and where potable water is in short supply. Because aluminium is a low-cost, non-hazardous metal that is the third most abundant metal on Earth, this technology promises to enable a global-scale potable water and power technology, especially for off-grid and remote locations.
“The unit, including the alloy, the reactor and fuel cell might weigh less than 100 pounds. You could drop the alloy, a small reaction vessel and a fuel cell into a remote area via parachute. Then the reactor could be assembled along with the fuel cell. The polluted water or the seawater would be added to the reactor and the reaction converts the aluminium and water into aluminium hydroxide, heat and hydrogen gas on demand. The aluminium hydroxide waste is non-toxic and could be disposed of in a landfill,” Woodall explains.
In some parts of the Federal Capital Territory, residents complain about the dirty water that sometimes flows from taps. Mrs. Lillian Christopher, a resident of Karu, a suburb in the FCT, relates, “Water supply in this area is really poor. Most people rely on boreholes and those of us who don’t have are at the mercy of Water Board. We wait for tap water, which comes once or twice in a week. Sometimes it even comes out brownish and you begin to wonder whether it is tap or stream water,” Christopher laments.
According to an Abuja-based scientist and water purification expert who didn’t want his name in print, the FCT does employ the use of an aluminium alloy to purify water. “Aluminium sulphate, popularly referred to as ‘alum’ is used in the sedimentation of water in the FCT and this brings about clear and potable water for drinking. But this new technology indicates that the aluminium alloy used also produces hydrogen for energy. It simply means that they are trying to use aluminium in another way to generate power.”
He says that while the research says that the process of the technology produces steam that would destroy micro-organisms, chlorine is currently used to destroy micro-organisms in water purification in Nigeria.
“After using aluminium sulphate to settle the particles, we use chlorine to kill the micro-organisms. In Africa we have a lot of water and also, the technology for its purification, but our major constraint is availability of water treatment chemicals. So if we can truly have a technology that is cheaper than the current one we use, then making potable water available will certainly be enhanced,” he explains.