If one ever needed another reason to drink more whiskey, now they have one: a waste by-product of the distillation process could save the lives of millions of people around the world lacking access to clean drinking water.

Scottish scientists have discovered that compressed barley husks – used during the malting, germination, and mashing process that converts sugar into alcohol – have the ability to remove pollutants such as pesticides, benzene, and heavy metals from polluted water.

Dr. Leigh Cassidy from Aberdeen University and soil toxicologist Professor Graeme Paton developed the system, which they are calling DRAM – Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants. The husks are normally a throw-away item once the sugars have been drained out of them and distillers are all too eager to find a use for the waste product. As such, they have found a plentiful supply of the husks from Speyside distilleries in Scotland.

The team is hesitant to get into details on how the treatment system works until they have patents in place, but they says it works by binding pollutants in the water using the residue of husks after fermentation – called “draff” – to bind with and remove the pollutants in the water. The water is then supposedly clean enough to drink, removing about 95 percent of most contaminates in lab tests.

With the ability to clean up to 1,000 litres of water per hour, the local charity Purifaid will start using the technology this December to try to clean up the problem of arsenic found in domestically-used water in the region surrounding Golaidanga. It hopes to deliver clean water to the 30 families residing in the local village. Currently, more than 18 million people in Bangladesh drink water contaminated with arsenic.

“The DRAM system has the potential to transform people’s lives by bringing clean water to entire villages at a low cost. A successful pilot project could change the face of the country,” said Shahreen Raza from Purifaid.

The two scientists have formed Epona Technologies Limited to develop the project for commercial applications. You can check out a video of how the system works on their website.

While this process is not exactly technologically superior to water treatment solutions that modern science has come up with, it sure beats the use of chemicals and other dispersants used in some regions of the world. Take a natural waste product that is usually thrown away and use it to clean up drinking water for millions of people? I’d call that clean tech progress for sure.

[via Scotsman]

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