Engineers from the Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new novel nanoparticle material capable of cleaning dirty water, making it suitable for drinking.

The new material is made from the combination of graphene oxide and bacteria-produced cellulose to form a bi-layered biofoam. The graphene oxide can be found in the top layer of the new material, while the cellulose is in the bottom layer.

The engineers used graphene oxide due to its ability to conduct heat and electricity quickly and efficiently. The lab-created substance is also known for being light, strong and flexible. For the cellulose, the researchers added graphene oxide flakes during the culturing of the bacteria. These bacteria forms layer of nanocellulose fibers in which the graphene oxide become embedded.

"The graphene oxide becomes embedded as the bacteria produces the cellulose. At a certain point along the process, we stop, remove the medium with the graphene oxide and reintroduce fresh medium. That produces the next layer of our foam. The interface is very strong; mechanically, it is quite robust," explained Qisheng Jiang, a graduate student at the Singamaneni lab and lead author of the study, in a statement.

When the new bi-layered biofoam is suspended in the water, the cellulose at the bottom act like a sponge, drawing water up to the top layer. The water will then be evaporated in the graphene oxide layer using heat vonverted from the sun light. After the evaporation process, fresh water can easily be collected from the top of the sheet.

The enginners noted that both materials can be produced in a massive scale, strengthening the possibility of building larger sheets of the new biofoam. Other nanostructured materials can also be added during the synthesis process to increase the rate of destruction of bacteria and other contaminant in the water, making it safe for drinking.

The new biofoam material is described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials.