Science

Cow manure makes DRINKABLE water after scientists turn the animal feces into a filter

Cow manure makes DRINKABLE water after scientists turn the animal feces into a filter that removes salt from seawater

  • The manure is broken down into a foam that sits on the surface of sea water
  • It is activated by sunlight, allowing water underneath to pass through as steam
  • This water, which has been cleaned of salt, is collected and ready to drink


Cow manure may be used largely for fertilizing, but some researchers are using it to turn seawater into freshwater.

Scientists at Northeastern University developed a process that turns the bovine feces into a filter that purifies otherwise undrinkable water – an innovation the team hopes can address the global water crisis.

By blasting the manure with intense heat, scientists broke it down to a carbon powder that was made into a foam. 

The foam floats on the seawater’s surface and when sunlight hits the area, water beneath the black material turns to steam and passes through it as drinkable liquid.

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Scientists at Northeastern University developed a process that turns the animal feces into a filter (pictured) that purifies otherwise undrinkable water

There are some 1.42 billion people living in areas stricken with water scarcity, according to UNICEF, and only three percent of water on Earth is drinkable.

With this in mind, many scientists are tirelessly working to transform ocean water into freshwater. 

The running solution is a filtration system that removes salt from the water, a process called desalination, but such devices come with downfalls.

Yi Zheng, a professor at Northeastern University, said in a statement: ‘Material is kind of expensive to fabricate, and the material itself is not sustainable.

‘Furthermore, ‘the entire process for water desalination consumes electricity.’

By blasting the manure with intense heat, scientists broke it down to a carbon powder that was made into a foam

By blasting the manure with intense heat, scientists broke it down to a carbon powder that was made into a foam

Building upon the filtration idea, Zheng looked for a more sustainable power source – sunlight.

However, the process would not need solar panels, but a filter that is activated by sunlight.

Zhang collected a trove of cow manure from local farms and hit the material with heat up to 3,092F to kill off any bacteria.

Once the bacteria was removed, the manure had transformed into a carbon powder that Zhang turned into a foam to filter out the salt from ocean water.

‘The resulting water was so fresh, Zheng said, adding that its sodium concentration was significantly lower than the standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water,’ the researchers shared in the release.

The foam floats on the seawater's surface and when sunlight hits the area, water beneath the black material turns to steam and passes through it as drinkable liquid

The foam floats on the seawater’s surface and when sunlight hits the area, water beneath the black material turns to steam and passes through it as drinkable liquid

‘The materials we use are totally natural, sustainable,’ Zheng said. 

‘This natural material performs well, and is low-cost, easy to obtain, and easy to manufacture.’

That means this technology could empower local communities to build their own desalination systems, which could be important to move toward equitable access to drinking water around the world, Zheng said.

‘You cannot simply set a nanofabrication facility in a local village or a town, but people can simply collect the manure from a local farm and burn it easily,’ he continued.

‘So the use of manure and tree leaves makes it really easy to access.’

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