Doing nano-enabled water treatment right: sustainability considerations from design and research through development and implementation
Currently, over a billion people around the world lack access to clean drinking water, industrial wastewater treatment and reuse is limited, and conventional water treatment systems cannot adequately treat all contaminants of concern. Nanotechnology-enabled water treatment (NWT) has begun to emerge as a viable option to address many of the problems facing the water treatment status quo, either through cost reducing performance enhancements or filling unmet niches. Advancements in fundamental nanoscience allow unprecedented use of catalysis and energy from across the broad electromagnetic spectrum, as well as unique physicochemical properties, to purify drinking water, treat industrial wastewater, and access unconventional water supplies. However, before fully adopting NWT, it is imperative that the devices are both safe and sustainable, enhancing acceptance from consumers, government, non-government organizations, and industry. We suggest that we are in a unique window of time to “do nano right” by making key sustainability considerations very early in nano-water technology development. To this end, we have developed a framework based on three guiding research questions aimed at understanding the breadth of sustainability considerations for NWT at each of the four major life cycle stages – extraction, production, use, and end-of-life. In following this framework, researchers and product developers can design nano-enabled water treatment devices that perform well and are both safe and sustainable. By presenting the current state of sustainable NWT and specifying gaps in the literature, the present review aims to further develop NWT to be the best alternative to conventional water treatment across a variety of sectors.