Solar Steam System Tested to Sanitize Medical Tools

HOUSTON — A sterilization system that converts water into steam as a tool to sanitize medical and dental instruments and human waste is now ready to be beta-tested, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

The technology was first revealed last year by researchers at Rice University in Houston, and was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It uses nanomaterials to convert 80 percent of solar energy into heat, which is used to create the steam that can provide sterilization. The technology has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, compared to photovoltaic solar panels, which typically have an energy efficiency of about 15 percent.

The particles, submerged in water, create disinfecting steam in about five minutes. The researchers found that the heat and pressure generated by the steam can kill heat-resistant living microbes, as well as spores and viruses. This could help sterilization procedures that affect the health of 2.5 billion people in third-world countries.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation required that the researchers create a system that can handle the waste of a family of four with just two treatments per week, according to GizMag. The research team plans to partner with waste-treatment company Sanivation, based in Naivasha, Kenya, to conduct the first field tests of the system at three sites in Kenya.

Naomi Halas, director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) at Rice University presented her team’s prototypes during the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, which was held in Indianapolis earlier this month.

“Sanitation and sterilization are enormous obstacles without reliable electricity,” Halas said at the exposition. “Solar steam’s efficiency at converting sunlight directly into steam opens up new possibilities for off-grid sterilization that simply aren’t available today.”

As reported by Healthline, the technology is not small enough, durable enough or inexpensive enough to mass produce, but Halas formed a company to develop the technology for commercial use.