A simple, cheap, and safe solution to produce hydrochloric acid out of the lab

Institute Reference: INV-21106


Acid generators are required in a wide variety of applications such as providing potable water, wastewater treatment, and removal of bacterial endotoxins. Water quality violation is increasing across the country. In 2017, EPA violations at water utilities serving ~63 million people were reported. Currently, water quality in the US is determined at the treatment plants or in point of use. However, current water quality sensors are expensive, large, require extensive maintenance, and low-pH conditions. Also, at-home test kits fail to accurately detect heavy metals such as lead when metals are in solid and particulate forms, which do not react with the kits. In some cases, vinegar or lemon juice is used to solve the particle problem, but those acids also have confounding chemicals that may lead to inaccurate results or longer wait times for results. Therefore, developing a lab-on-a-faucet device and low-pH conditions allows more precise detection with sensors and test kits. 

During the process of recombinant protein production, an effective way to deactivate endotoxin byproducts is transient acidification. Recombinant proteins produced in bacteria are contaminated with bacterial endotoxins, which can interfere with biological assays and are major pathological factors. Therefore, endotoxins must be removed or deactivated before in vivo administration. Endotoxin deactivation by acidification obviates the need for further purification and yield high protein recovery. Limited shelf life of protein necessitates inventing point-of-use devices to decrease endotoxin byproducts. 

This invention describes a simple and cheap method of acid generation for various point-of-use purposes. 

Technology Overview

Researchers at Northeastern have invented a portable acid generator that uses basic concepts like the separation of salts into ions and membrane selectivity to generate acid. In this system, acid is produced by electrolysis and then separated from the conjugate base using membranes. Cheap and simple starting materials including, NaCl and water are used to produce HCl with a low-power source. HCI, produced in small quantities, can safely be used outside of a laboratory environment. Prior art enables production of hypochlorous acid, which is a weaker acid, but does not separate the chlorine production from the acid, as can be achieved with this new device. This new acid generator can be used in voltammetry-based heavy metal microfluidics devices, which are dependent on low pH. Prior to this, it was not possible to achieve low pH outside of the lab. Another application is accurate detection of heavy metals using at-home test kits or other technologies by creating the necessary HCl to dissolve particulate heavy metals. Lastly, the newly invented acid generator enables endotoxin deactivation in the production of recombinant proteins.


  • Simplicity of procedure 
  • Using simple and abundant starting material such as NaCl and water
  • Low‑cost 
  • Production of strong acid
  • Utilizes separate processes of chlorine production and acid generation
  • Safe for out-of-lab use
  • Production of small quantities of HCl
  • Small and portable 
  • Increases accuracy of point-of-use heavy metals detection kits


  • Endotoxin deactivation in recombinant protein production 
  • Wastewater treatment 
  • Potable water analysis 
  • Voltammetry based heavy metal microfluidic device 


  • Research Collaboration 
  • Licensing 
  • Partnership 


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Saulich
Associate Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Akhenaton-Andrew Jones
Andrea Chavez Munoz