In a world of staggering economic inequality, the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has never rung more true. With a bit of forward planning and the right materials, all sorts of objects that appear to have reached the end of their useful life and are headed for the landfill can be re-purposed and transformed into something else.
That’s exactly what a new Israeli startup company called NUFiltration is doing. With a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and some water filtration know-how, NUFiltration is upcycling medical waste that was previously regarded not only as worthless but represented a serious logistical problem for the medical supply industry.
Knowing What You Have
The idea was sparked when Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine Professor Yoram Lass realized that single-use dialysis filters could easily be sterilized and re-purposed as high quality water filters. Looking to keep to his work as a professor, Dr. Lass patented the idea and set out to find someone with the business acumen to seize on the opportunity he had identified. After selling the patent to Mino Negrin, an entrepreneur with serious credentials in the water industry, the NUFiltration project was born. With the company still in its infancy, NUFiltration devices have already provided disaster relief following Ecuador’s 2016 earthquake, and have made their way to Ghana in humanitarian efforts to spread clean water technology.
The whole system piggy-backs off waste generated while keeping patients alive. In the process of hemodiaylsis, patients suffering from kidney failure are treated with a device that is effectively an artificial kidney. Because the purpose of the kidneys is to filter your blood, it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that there are some super high-quality, medical-grade filters inside of dialysis machines.
What might be more surprising is that these extremely high-quality filters are considered single-use disposable products. While methods exist for cleaning and reusing dialysis filters, they can only be reused on the same patient and the process is considered too time- and labor-intensive for most dialysis centers. As a result, there are hundreds of millions of used dialysis filters across the globe, representing nothing but a storage and disposal problem.
Medical Grade Filtration Quality
When it comes to dialysis, as with any medical procedure, safety and cleanliness are of prime importance. In order to re-use a dialysis filter, it would need to be sterilized and cleaned with extreme care between every single use. In contrast, upcycling them into water filters only requires this extreme deep-cleaning process once before the filter is re-purposed to a somewhat-less-demanding but still potentially lifesaving role as a water filter.
Dialysis filters begin their life-cycle prepared for the complicated task of serving as a stand-in for an organ. As a result, they are manufactured to much higher standards than your run-of-the-mill water filters. In his testing, Negrin found the upcycled dialysis filters to be performing better than commercial water filter solutions. “It was genius. The simplicity of it caught my eye immediately. It could filter out every micro-biological pollutant: viruses, bacteria, fungi,” he said in an interview.
Dredging A Sunk Cost
Dialysis filters aren’t cheap to manufacture. But after having been used only once, they become virtually free. NUFiltration has encountered no issues in supplying themselves with used filters and find little cost in acquiring them other than the cost of picking them up and transporting them. So far, the company is mostly working with the estimated one million or so discarded dialysis filters in Israel alone.
After sterilizing the filters with a process approved and specified by the FDA, the filters are used in wastewater treatment, pool filtration, and portable water filtration systems. These portable filters are the cornerstone of NUFiltration’s humanitarian efforts. Installing a series of filters into a suitcase-sized device, the company has produced a portable filtration system that can be operated by a hand-crank and requires no external power source.
The device can filter water from virtually any source and is designed to meet the water needs of entire villages. Costing less than $1,000 the system is capable of producing as much as 500 liters of clean water an hour for up to three years. Or as Negin puts it: “enough to supply all the daily water needs of 300 to 400 people who didn’t have access before.”
Watch the video below to see the NUFiltration portable water filter being put to use in a remote village in Ghana.
More From NUFiltration
To learn more and stay up-to-date on what NUFiltration is doing, visit their official website.
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We take a look at how the NUFiltration company has found a way to turn single-use disposable medical waste products into long-lasting reusable water filters.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.