Over one billion people have no access to clean water worldwide, and every week an estimated 42,000 people die from diseases related to low quality drinking water. In Australia, drought and salinity affect the water supplies to major Australian cities and regional areas alike. Nanotechnologies offer opportunities for cheap and effective solutions for some of the major problems facing water supplies.
Nanotechnology Victoria has recently committed $245,000 into developing and constructing commercial prototypes for novel ultra-sensitive and reliable biosensors for the detection and monitoring of phosphate and nitrate in water and sediment samples as well as other applications. Research and development is being undertaken by Monash University's School of Applied Sciences and Engineering, at the Gippsland campus.
Nanostructured surfaces used in the development of sensors can enable accurate results and rapid analysis times. These can be incorporated into portable devices for on-site detection and diagnosis of contaminants such as metals, bacteria and algal toxins. Nanotechnology sensors could also be incorporated into sophisticated control systems, allowing plants to be irrigated only as required.
Nanostructured materials and nanoscale processes also have the potential to improve treatment technologies such as flocculation, filtration and disinfection to provide clean drinking water more cost-effectively. The large scale application of nanostructured films or membranes may also provide evaporation minimisation from reservoirs and water storages.
The Australian water industry faces problems that need to be addressed, and the need to coordinate future directions for the water industry is apparent. In June 2006, the Victorian Government and Global Access Partners (GAP) organised and hosted the ‘Forum on Commercialising Nanotechnology in Water’, to discuss these issues with a number of key people from the water industry. The Forum agreed that there is not only a need, but also an opportunity for greater coordination between the providers of nanotechnology and potential users within the water industry.