Surface plasma-based decontamination for pathogen removal from water pipes

EPA Contract Number: EPD15038
Title: Surface plasma-based decontamination for pathogen removal from water pipes
Investigators: Maneval, David
Small Business: SurfPlasma Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016
Project Amount: $99,798
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Homeland Security


More than 280 million Americans depend on the safety of the tap water provided by their local water systems. Ensuring that safe, uncontaminated water flows through the tap means ensuring that the water flowing through the pipes connected to these taps is also kept uncontaminated. However, a common problem that ails most of these water pipes is biofilm formation, causing the water flowing through the pipes to get discolored, take on disagreeable tastes or odors, or allow pathogenic bacteria to survive chlorination treatments. The interiors of almost all water distribution systems eventually develop biofilms that may harbor pathogenic microbes (such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Legionella pneumophila and Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)). Keeping this in mind, SurfPlasma Inc. proposes a better alternative: surface plasma–based decontamination (SPD).
SPD uses diffuse electrical plasma to destroy a wide variety of harmful pathogens. Such plasma is generated in atmospheric air by applying a potential difference between two electrodes, separated by an insulating dielectric layer. Surface plasma decontamination affords a number of advantages over conventional decontamination methods. It is rapid, taking 2-20 minutes for a 6-log reduction in concentrations of a variety of pathogens. SurfPlasma envisions redesigning and rebuilding this plasma electrode into a flexible form, capable of being embedded in water pipes. Using such a system, surface plasma can then be generated for a finite amount of time, frequently helping to keep the inside of the water-pipe pathogen-free.
Previous work establishes the effectiveness of surface plasma for the purpose of sterilization and the operational parameters required to generate electrical surface plasma that could achieve complete (~6-log) reduction in concentrations of various pathogens with exposure times ranging from 2-20 minutes. Part of this research also conducted a preliminary analysis of surface-plasma interaction with B. subtilis biofilms. SurfPlasma proposes using this knowledge of plasma-based sterilization both with pathogens and biofilms and using it to develop a novel method targeting pathogen removal from the inner surfaces of these water pipes.
The SurfPlasma manufacturing process would embed or print electrodes for plasma generation onto the dielectric and wall of a water-pipe section. SurfPlasma aims to develop a pipe-cleaning technology in 2 years.
Plasma is generated from ambient atmospheric air; no toxic gases are involved. Since plasma is generated at atmospheric pressure and low temperatures, it does not generally corrode materials and can be used for surfaces and objects made of different materials, even heat-sensitive ones. Thus, surface plasma is as effective as commonly available decontamination technologies, but is non-corrosive and compatible with common environmental surfaces. Plasma also has been shown to erode bacterial polymers, which may make it especially effective on biofilms.
Surface plasma–based decontamination is a fast, environmentally friendly and effective method for pathogen removal from water pipes. SurfPlasma has put together a strong team, made up of experienced, innovative and passionate professionals, that is capable of engineering this plasma electrode into technology that could herald a revolution in keeping water pipes pathogen-resistant.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

homeland security, pathogen removal from water pipes, plasma-based sterilization, electrical surface plasma, biofilms, pathogenic microbes

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report