US Army Uses Bacteria to Treat Water in Afghanistan

16 February 2010 (Last Updated February 16th, 2010 18:30)

Scientists from Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in the US have created a new bacteria-based portable water purifier for the US Army to use in Afghanistan. The US Army approved the system to treat with dirty water after scientists tested and demonstrated the purifier at several munic

Scientists from Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in the US have created a new bacteria-based portable water purifier for the US Army to use in Afghanistan.

The US Army approved the system to treat with dirty water after scientists tested and demonstrated the purifier at several municipal and military sites where the system successfully purified wastewater within 24h of installation.

The discharge levels surpassed the US Environmental Protection Agency's municipal wastewater norms, resulting in less than 10% of sludge by volume, and in a majority of cases, less than 1%.

The waste-water treatment system generates potable water through a group of common bacterial strains without leaving behind noxious by-products.

The system can quickly clean contaminated water and the bacteria inside consumes its waste after purification.

SHSU project lead scientist Sabin Holland said the bacteria or bugs being used are naturally occurring.

"We have isolated a small subset of them - each bacterium has a specific function - and we have engineered a biofilm that is self-regulating and highly efficient at cleaning wastewater," Holland said.

The physical systems themselves – known as bio-reactors – are transportable, remotely-monitored units that consume less power.

The US Army has sent the first two units, which are enclosed in 20ft ISO shipping containers, to Afghanistan. The technology makes the system suitable for remote military operations and disaster relief situations.