Leveraging New Technology for Water Filtration: 7 Emerging Innovations

The agriculture sector is full of advanced technology. While farming may not be the first profession that comes to mind when many think of innovation, the field is home to many technological advancements. Some of the most important of these deal with water.


Agriculture relies heavily on water. Irrigation alone accounts for 65% of freshwater withdrawals globally, excluding thermoelectric power. It should come as no surprise, then, that water technologies are essential to agriculture’s future. Water filtration technology, in particular, holds vast potential.


Why Water Filtration Matters for Agriculture

The most obvious use case for advanced water filtration is drinking water. While farms may not produce this, they still require clean water for many of the same reasons. Without reliable filtration methods, the water that hydrates crops may be contaminated, heaving adverse effects on consumers down the line.


For example, E. coli outbreaks from fruits and vegetables often come from contaminated water, typically from solid waste. Better filtration methods keep potential contaminants on the farm away from the produce that people later consume.


Contaminated water could also harm crop growth and health. By contrast, filtering can ensure crops grow quickly and without complication. With all this in mind, here are seven emerging innovations pushing agricultural water filtration further.


1. Antimicrobial Nanotechnology

One of the most promising recent developments in water filtration tech comes from nanotechnology. More specifically, scientists have harnessed nanoparticles that release silver ions into water. Since silver is a well-documented antimicrobial agent, these microscopic particles destroy contaminants, purifying the water.


Surveys show that roughly 20% of private wells contain at least one kind of bacteria that’s harmful to humans. Consequently, using antimicrobial nanotechnology has significant potential in the agriculture industry. By employing these systems, farmers could remove even the smallest biological contaminants from their irrigation systems.


Despite how advanced it sounds, nanotechnology is also comparatively affordable. It could let farms clean their water at a fraction of the cost of traditional filtration methods.


2. Acoustic Nanotubes

Acoustic nanotubes are another nanotechnology-based solution to water filtration. Instead of using silver nanoparticles, this process uses tiny carbon tubes that acoustic waves push water through. The water passes freely through the tubes while their nano-scale diameter traps any larger molecules.


This process resembles traditional membrane filtration techniques, but it uses acoustics instead of pressure. As a result, it uses far less energy than these other systems. NASA scientists initially developed the technology, but it has since become more widely available, making its way into agriculture.


Another advantage of acoustic nanotube filtration is that users don’t have to periodically flush the system of contaminants. Since it drives water away from contaminants instead of removing them from the water, it retains its efficacy over extended periods.


3. New Membrane Materials

Membrane filtration is one of the most popular water purification methods in use today. While this process itself is far from new, recent advancements have made it far more effective and versatile. Specifically, novel membrane materials let users remove more contaminants more reliably than ever before.


One of the most promising of these materials seems far from innovative at first: ceramics. Ceramic membranes may seem rudimentary, but modern chemistry has created ceramic materials that are both effective and affordable. These breakthroughs have lowered the cost of purifying saltwater from $1 to $0.50 per cubic meter in just five years.


If improvements follow that trend, clean water will become accessible to even the smallest and most remote farms.


4. Desalination

Most agricultural water withdrawals are freshwater, and understandably so. While freshwater can still carry many contaminants, it’s typically easier to clean and purify than brackish or saltwater. However, recent innovations have made desalination, the process of removing salt from saltwater, a viable alternative.


The most popular desalination method is reverse osmosis, but traditional reverse osmosis techniques have extensive energy demands. A new method, batch reverse osmosis, can desalinate water at just 1.88 kilowatts per cubic meter and requires fewer components than alternatives.


With this technology, farmers could feasibly use saltwater as their irrigation source. Global agriculture could then reduce its freshwater consumption, helping fight water scarcity while minimizing costs.


5. Ultraviolet Purification

One water filtration technology that’s gained significant attention recently is ultraviolet (UV) purification. These systems use UV light to kill microbes and break down other contaminants, purifying the water relatively easily. New technology has made UV purification systems small enough to fit in a water bottle, but larger versions can purify agricultural water.


Previously, to match UV’s level of efficacy in killing microbes, farmers would have to use chemical treatments. While chemicals are effective at purifying water, they may also affect the quality or taste of crops, making them unsuitable for agriculture. UV provides this high level of disinfection without compromising the chemical makeup or taste of the water.


One downside to UV disinfection is that it’s often relatively expensive. However, as technology improves, these costs will fall, making it more accessible.


6. Wastewater Recycling

As water scarcity becomes a more prominent concern, farmers must look beyond traditional water sources. Instead of drawing water from wells or natural freshwater bodies, farms could recycle wastewater from nearby towns and cities. This would reduce agriculture’s strain on global water supplies, but it requires extensive cleaning systems.


New technologies have made wastewater recycling highly effective and affordable. Modular hybrid activated sludge digesters, for example, can both clean wastewater and provide more resources for a farm. These systems remove nutrients from the wastewater that farmers can then use in fertilizer, mitigating the costs of implementation by expanding their output.


With urban farming becoming more popular, recycled wastewater’s value in agriculture is rising. Small, urban farms may not have access to traditional water sources, but wastewater is readily available.


7. IoT Sensors

Some of the most disruptive technologies in water filtration aren’t actual filtration methods. Internet of things (IoT) sensors in water purification systems can help agricultural workers monitor their progress and health more easily. These devices wirelessly transmit real-time data to other devices, including farmers’ cell phones, giving immediate access to important information.


If something goes wrong in the filtration process, these sensors can alert relevant workers in real-time. They can then respond quickly and fix the issue before it causes widespread damage, maximizing the filtration system’s value.


Other systems use IoT connectivity to give updates about water cleanliness, providing insight into any developing health trends. This data lets farmers keep a closer eye on the efficacy of their water purification methods and crop health.


New Water Filtration Technologies Push Agriculture Forward

The world cannot survive without agriculture, and agriculture cannot survive without clean water. Consequently, technologies that improve water purification in agriculture have positive ripple effects across communities.


These seven technologies are just the beginning of what innovations can do for agriculture. As systems like this advance, farming will become safer, more efficient and sustainable, supporting humankind well into the future.


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