The work in the Department of Chemical Engineering is in collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England.
Together they have created a low cost sensor, using 3D printing technology, which can be used directly in rivers and lakes for continuous water quality monitoring.
The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.
"When the bacteria feed in a microbial fuel cell, they convert chemical energy into electrical energy that we can measure," said Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Bath.
"We found that when we injected a pollutant into the water there was an immediate drop in the electric current they produced. The drop was proportional to the amount of toxin present and the current is recovered once the toxin levels fell."
"This means we are able to monitor the level of pollutants in the water in real time without having to collect multiple samples and take them to a laboratory."
The research is published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.