Transforming Dialyzers Into Water Purification Devices

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Excerpted from Solution Nation: One Nation is Disproportionately Responding to the World’s Most Intractable Problems

Before we learn how NUFiltration converts dialyzers into water filtration devices, let’s review a few basic principles of the mechanics behind dialyzers. The primary purpose of dialyzers is to purify blood when the kidneys are not functioning; thus, dialyzers are referred to as “artificial kidneys.”

The first step in purifying blood is to draw the patient’s blood and route it into a dialysis machine. Once the blood reaches the dialyzer, its good components (e.g. albumin) are separated from the blood’s bad components (e.g. potassium, creatine and urea) that would normally be excreted by a healthy person through urination. Specifically, dialyzers contain roughly 15,000 microfibers, each of which is a hollow fiber blanketed with holes each no larger than 30 nanometers (or 0.03 µ). Since albumin is larger than 0.03 µ it does not fall through the microfibers’ holes. However, toxins such as creatine and urea are smaller than 0.03 µ and thus do fall through the microfibers’ holes when a saline solution called dialysate flushes them through.

When NUFiltration purifies dirty water, the dialyzer essentially works in reverse. Raw water flows into openings in the tops and bottoms of the dialyzers and only clean water pours out of the holes in the microfiber. Contaminants larger than 0.03 µ are trapped by the microfiber membranes; thus, all bacteria, pathogens, parasites and even most viruses are removed from water when passing through the dialyzers. However, NUF’s systems perform best when the initial water comes from rivers or lakes as dialyzers do not remove salt which ranges in sizes between 0.003 µ and 0.02 µ.

NUFiltration’s Dialyzers and Deployments

NUF’s systems prolifically purify water in one pass. Depending on the size of the machine, one dialyzer can produce between 50 and 200 liters of water per hour. The Company’s water purification systems range in size from four dialyzers to 640 dialyzers. A system with eight dialyzers that costs one-third of an equivalent, leading filtration system can produce eight liters of water per minute. This is easily enough to supply all of the daily water needs to 200 to 300 people in Africa—in one hour.[1]

The Company’s repurposed dialyzers can be operated with hand pumps or solar power. They require no chemicals and almost no maintenance as their membranes are self-cleaning. When pressure points throughout the device reach pre-programmed levels, the backwash process is triggered. During this process, between one percent and seven percent of the recently cleaned water reverses course and cascades over the microfiber membranes. In the case of purifying river water, the backwash process commences approximately every two hours and takes roughly one or two minutes to complete. The expelled contaminants flow away from NUF’s filtration units and into drains. 

NUF has installed its dialyzer-based water filtration systems in countries that are in great need of inexpensive methods to purify their polluted rivers and lakes. Deployments have already taken place in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Fiji Islands, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

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[1]   The United Nations declared that, in non-emergency situations, people require 20 to 30 liters of water per day.

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