Our Research Development of low-cost water filter using sapwood xylem


Can an affordable and sustainably sourced water filter be developed by and for rural communities?

Research Strategy

  • Use sap-conducting xylem tissue from trees to filter water
  • Create open-sourced, user-centered design
  • Develop business plan for local manufacture and commercialization of a low cost water filter

Project description

J-WAFS Solutions Program

This project addressed the largely unmet need to provide safe and affordable drinking water to low-income groups by developing low-cost water filters that exploit the natural filtration capabilities of xylem tissue in wood. The key advantages of xylem as a water filter are low filter replacement cost compared to existing gravity-driven filters, light weight, easy transportability, good rejection of bacteria and protozoa, and the ability to manufacture locally with minimal infrastructure. Filtration devices developed from this material have potential to act as low-cost household water filters or could be distributed in emergencies. This project was addressed through a collaboration of researchers in the Department of Engineering and MIT D-Lab.

The research team’s work has addressed the challenge of dry storage of xylem filters and advanced our understanding of xylem as a filter material. In parallel, they have explored channels for implementation and have identified potential partners and commercialization strategies in India. This project identified the ‘sweet spot’ for xylem filters by assessing the usability, desirability, and affordability of low-cost filters, and by addressing feasibility through understanding and optimization of filter flow rate and lifetime, validating filtration performance in the lab and field, and creating a roadmap for local manufacture and commercialization. This project has also received a J-WAFS Grant for Water and Food Projects in India in 2019 to continue this work.

Leadership for this project was shared across the research team. Full leadership includes: 

Rohit Karnik, Associate Department Head for Education, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Founding Director, D-Lab

Anish Paul Antony, Postdoctoral Associate, D-Lab

Megha Hegde, Research Associate, D-Lab

Kendra Leith, Associate Director for Research, D-Lab

Krithika Ramchander, PhD Candidate, 2018-2019 Meswani Fellow, Department of Mechanical Engineering


  • Developed a low-cost water filter made of xylem tissue in wood that is capable of bacteria filtration
  • Produced standardized procedures that local entrepreneurs can use to manufacture and sell the filters


Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Water

Research Themes

  • Water Purification & Desalination
  • Technology & Commercialization
  • Equity & Access

Year Funded

  • 2016

Grant Type

  • Solutions Grant


  • Completed