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Burning Coconut Shells - How GE's New Fridge Filters out Pharmaceuticals
Aug 20, 2012
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A new report describes how GE Appliances chose to use activated carbon from burned coconut shells as the media in refrigerator water filters that are intended to remove pharmaceuticals from tap water.

The new GE Report notes that some tap water has been found with contamination of pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, antidepressants, as well as medications for blood pressure and birth control. Many municipal water plants don't have the capability to remove these substances from the local water supply.

Andy Krause was part of the team that began addressing the issue with the development of the new water filter. He is currently a senior engineer at the GE refrigerator plant that opened in 2012 at Appliance Park in Louisville, KY to make the new refrigerator.

"One reason why many people go organic is because of trace amounts of pesticides in non-organic food," Krause said in the report. "We had to evolve filtration."

Krause, who specializes in water filtration, and the design team sought a filtration technology to remove pharmaceuticals as well as more common contaminants from tap water. This search led the team to choose activated carbon from burned coconut shells. GE said the coconut carbon is more porous and less dense than the more commonly used form of carbon, from coal.

"You can bind the carbon together in a way that creates lots of surface area for the [pharmaceutical] chemicals to bond with," Krause explained.

Small particles catch larger impurities when they stick to their surface, in a process called adsorption. Some additives then chemically trap the smaller pharmaceuticals molecules in a process called absorption.

The new filters are included in a French door refrigerator that GE began manufacturing in Louisville in 2012. The filter removes 98% of five trace pharmaceuticals from water and ice made in the appliance, including:
* ibuprofen (painkiller)
* atenolol (blood pressure medication)
* fluoxetine (antidepressant)
* progesterone (steroid hormone replacement)
* trimethoprim (antibiotic)

The popularity of the new fridge has already prompted GE to announce expanded production at the new plant. In June, GE said it would add 380 more employees to the second shift at the refrigerator plant, bringing the total new jobs at the plant to 772.

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