Purifying drinking water has long been one of mankind’s greatest challenges. In the developed world, it has largely been achieved through chlorination. And while this approach has been wildly successful in eliminating deadly diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid, it is not without its critics who claim it may increase the risk of cancer.

Now comes a new approach to cleansing water that is making waves in the public health arena.

As reported in the magazine Materials Science and Engineering, Scientists at the National University of Science and Technology (a.k.a. NUST MISIS) along with those from Derzhavin Tambov and Saratov Chernyshevsky State Universities, have uncovered a way to use “graphene” to purify water. This makes the water drinkable, without further chlorination.

Graphene (as well as a more stable version of the material called “graphene oxide”) is a group of carbon atoms that are tightly packed together in a manner resembling something like chicken wire. It has many uncommon properties, including its ability to conduct electricity and heat, as well as being the strongest material ever tested. But what these scientists are interested in is graphene’s unique water cleansing abilities. As explained in the NUST MISIS website:

[The scientists] conducted an experiment, injecting graphene oxide into solutions (nutrient medium and the saline) containing E.coli. Under the terms of the experiment, saline “simulated” water, and the nutrient medium simulated human body medium. The results showed that the graphene oxide along with the living and the destroyed bacteria form flakes inside the solutions. The resulting mass can be easily extracted, making water almost completely free of bacteria. If the extracted mass is then treated with ultrasound, graphene can be separated and reused.”

The bottom line according to scientists is that if a graphene purification system is created to handle water, it should help communities avoid having to uptick the use of chlorination. And there are other advantages, including: decontamination with graphene oxide is not very pricy and from an engineering standpoint, it’s easy to scale up for use by large urban wastewater treatment plants.