New system from UBC uses bacteria to clean drinking water

Researchers at the University of British Columbia say they've created a system that uses bacteria and gravity to turns grey water into drinking water.

The invention takes "over 99.99 per cent of contaminants" out of non-potable water that wouldn't otherwise be suitable to drink, according to a statement.

First, the water falls through tanks filled with fibre membranes that latch on to particles like dirt, bacteria and viruses while the liquid filters through.

Then the water goes through a layer of good bacteria, or biofilm, that breaks down pollutants by "essentially eating away" at the contaminants.

It's not the first time membranes have been used to treat water, but a statement from UBC said its modifications are new — mainly its use of gravity.

"You just open and close a few valves every 24 hours in order to 'lift' the water and let gravity and biology do their thing. This means significant savings in time and money over the lifetime of the system," said UBC civil engineering professor Pierre Bérubé, who also led the project.

Next week, the system will be tested in West Vancouver. The university said it hopes to eventually install it in remote Canadian communities as well as around the world.

The first time membranes were used to filter water was in 1956 at UCLA.