Foam filter uses biofilm to clean water

Researchers will conduct field studies at the Crow Reservation in Montana, and in a small village outside of Tamale in Ghana. Above, a girl carries water in Accra, Ghana's capital. (Credit: Sura Nualpradid /

A new foam filter could be a way to get clean water to the estimated one in nine people who lack it worldwide.

The device significantly reduces dangerous pathogens in drinking water.

“The foam filter is the first of its kind to address a wide range of the biological and economic factors that hinder development of remote water filtration systems,” says Joan Rose, chair in water research and author of the study. “This filter is easier to use and more effective than traditional methods.”


Published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the study examines a multibarrier biofilm foam filter, designed and manufactured by Amway, as a low-cost alternative to existing household filtration methods.

“The foam filter combines existing water treatment principles and is evidence that conventional municipal water treatment processes can be reinvented into a small, light, and portable system,” Rose says.


The filter features a unique biological layer, which allows organisms within the foam to attack foreign pathogens as water passes through. Growth of “friendly” microorganisms in this layer enables the filter to become more efficient at reducing protozoa, bacteria, and viruses over time.
The newly discovered material also has other advantages such as ease of use, maintenance, and affordability.

Many existing filtration methods do not effectively reduce microbial levels and can be complex to use and tedious to maintain. Communities that take ownership of water supply maintenance and sustainability successfully become invested in that supply, according to Rose.


“An entire community is affected by the quality of their water,” Rose says. “A disease outbreak among members may be traced back to the water source, so the methods these communities rely on need to be effective and sustainable.”

Next steps for the filter include field studies at the Crow Reservation in Montana, and in a small village outside of Tamale in Ghana. Researchers from Michigan State, Montana State University, University of Arizona, and University of North Carolina will conduct the next phase of research.

Funding for this study and future work with the filter comes from Amway, a global direct selling company based in Ada, Michigan.

Source: Michigan State University