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Israeli researchers say they can make disinfectant from tap water

Bar-Ilan researchers electrify water to produce hypochlorous acid at defined level of acidity; patented method has not been published in science journal or subject to peer review

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of a glass of water (pinkomelet, IStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a glass of water (pinkomelet, IStock by Getty Images)

Researchers at Bar-Ilan University have developed what they say is a new way to make strong and environmentally friendly disinfectants to kill bacteria and viruses by using just tap water.

The method, which has not been submitted for peer review or yet published in a journal, was developed and patented by Dr. Eran Avraham, Dr. Izaak Cohen and Prof. Doron Aurbach, head of the electrochemistry group, of the Department of Chemistry and Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University. Peer review is a standard check for research and is a key step in validating a discovery.

The disinfectant materials were recently tested by researchers in the virology labs of Prof. Ronit Sarid of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at the university and at the Poriya Hospital in the north of Israel, and were “proven effective” in neutralizing microbes, fungus and corona-type viruses, Aurbach said in a phone interview.

The disinfectants are created by an adjustable, gentle electrification of water, he explained. “Usually water always contains the usual salt – sodium chloride” he said. “When you apply electricity to water you cause electrolysis — decomposition of water that forms the elements hydrogen and oxygen as gases.”

Bar-Ilan University Prof. Doron Aurbach in his lab. (Courtesy)

When the water contains also sodium chloride above a certain level, its electrification, or electrolysis, produces in addition to hydrogen and oxygen also chlorine gas.

What the Bar-Ilan researchers have developed is “a process that produces hypochlorous acid, containing the three elements bound together, at a well-defined level of acidity and adjustable concentrations,” he said. “We form highly aggressive oxidative conditions for all kinds of microbes.”

The process is “tricky” he added, and the electrolysis needs to be done in a very “judicious way,” to create the optimal disinfecting capability. The combination of the hypochlorous acid with a certain level of acidity transforms the electrified water into a “very oxidizing agent” that makes it possible “to have a very effective disinfectant.”

The disinfectants were found to be effective and safe to use to combat bacteria, viruses and spores, while at the same time pose no damage to larger bodies, such as skin cells. The materials also do not contaminate groundwater, the university said in a statement.

The solution can be used to create a variety of anti-bacterial products, such as spray-aerosols for disinfecting surfaces, appliances, beds, liquids for washing devices and hands, wipes, and other objects, including air-conditioning systems and washing machines, the statement said.

Because the solution does not cause burns or dry skin, it may also be suitable for treating wounds, said the researchers, who are investigating that possibility.

“We examined the ability of these materials to impair herpes simplex virus type 1 infection and human coronavirus OC43. Both viruses were completely eliminated when exposed to the disinfectants for different periods of time. The structural characteristics of OC43 are similar to those of recent SARS-CoV-2 suggesting that this virus will also be easily eliminated with this disinfectant,” said Sarid in the statement.

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