School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA
• Nanowire-assisted LEEFT is applied for water disinfection with low voltages. • LEEFT inactivates bacteria by disrupting cell membrane through electroporation. • Multiple electrodes and device configurations have been developed for LEEFT. • The LEEFT is low-cost, highly efficient, and produces no DBPs. • The LEEFT can potentially be applicable for water disinfection at all scales. Water disinfection is a critical step in water and wastewater treatment. The most widely used chlorination suffers from the formation of carcinogenic disinfection by-products (DBPs) while alternative methods (e.g., UV, O3, and membrane filtration) are limited by microbial regrowth, no residual disinfectant, and high operation cost. Here, a nanowire-enabled disinfection method, locally enhanced electric field treatment (LEEFT), is introduced with advantages of no chemical addition, no DBP formation, low energy consumption, and efficient microbial inactivation. Attributed to the lightning rod effect, the electric field near the tip area of the nanowires on the electrode is significantly enhanced to inactivate microbes, even though a small external voltage (usually<5 V) is applied. In this review, after emphasizing the significance of water disinfection, the theory of the LEEFT is explained. Subsequently, the recent development of the LEEFT technology on electrode materials and device configurations are summarized. The disinfection performance is analyzed, with respect to the operating parameters, universality against different microorganisms, electrode durability, and energy consumption. The studies on the inactivation mechanisms during the LEEFT are also reviewed. Lastly, the challenges and future research of LEEFT disinfection are discussed.