clean water
As of 2005, one in six people are without access to clean water. Perhaps they spend a huge fraction of their income to gain access to a truck that distributes clean water to them, which, ultimately, might not even be clean. They might simply drink available water that holds dangerous bacteria, or that is laced with chemicals. Slightly less than 1 billion people wake up knowing that their first demand of the day is to find any source of water at all.

It isn’t as if water purification hasn’t been perfected in a number of other contexts. Drug companies purify water in huge quantities to produce medicine. The U.S. Navy found methods by which drinking water could be desalinated.

But both of these methods lack the level of portability needed to address the issue of water deprivation in impoverished regions. Methods like chlorine tablets exist, along with reverse osmosis plants. Yet problems of portability persist. It’s possible only some pollutants get purified, and others remain. Sometimes parts are too expensive to replace or are difficult to find.

The struggle with water purification for those in poverty has obviously been a long one, but it looks like the end might be in sight. It comes in the form of a plain-looking box, no larger than a mini refrigerator. Behind its design is a unique story, and its benefits have been a long time coming.

Dean Kamen has been working on what he calls the Slingshot for over 10 years. The inventor of the Segway, Kamen came to the project when Baxter International asked for his help. They had built a device to perform a procedure called peritoneal dialysis, which uses sterile saline to filter a patient’s blood. Kamen’s job was to refine and improve the machine.

It required huge amounts of purified water, or what amounted to multiple gallons a day for each patient. Kamen and his team turned to a simple scientific principle to solve their problem: they recycled the energy used when water evaporates. Now, Kamen has a device that he says can “take any input water, whether it’s got bioburden, organics, inorganics, chrome and… make pure water come out.” Kamen explains that the Slingshot could provide perfectly clean water using less power than a typical hairdryer.

Kamen’s last challenge is getting the Slingshot where it needs to go. Alongside Coca-Cola in October of 2012, Kamen announced plans with the company to bring the Slingshot to remote regions of Africa and Latin America. The partnership had already sent 15 of the machines to Ghana in 2011. Also involved in the process were the Inter-American Development Bank and Africare.

But Kamen has even bigger plans. His next project will work to reach even more people in need of clean water with his energy-efficient Stirling generator, solving the lack of electricity that could inhibit the use of the Slingshot. In the near future, Kamen has made it quite possible that millions of people will no longer face water insecurity.

— Rachel Davis

Sources: Popular Science, HowStuffWorks, Coca-Cola
Photo: Business Week

What an individual considers a “valuable resource” reveals a lot about the economic standing. In developing nations, water is considered a valuable resource. It is access to clean water that separates those who live from those who die in the developing world. The following list gives credence to efforts at alleviating the global water crisis.

1. LifeStraw

According to the joint monitoring efforts of the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 884 million people live without access to adequate drinking water. In response to this staggering statistic, the folks at Vestergaard Frandsen Disease Control Textiles have created the LifeStraw. This cheap, reusable tool allows the user to drink available water without worrying about if it is contaminated. Without any replaceable parts or batteries, the device filters out 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan particles. At under $10 US, the LifeStraw has a one year lifetime worth of clean water consumption. While the LifeStraw is considered nothing more than a short-term solution, it is worthy of adamant praise.

2. Slingshot

While the LifeStraw does a great service for those in immediate need of clean drinking water, it does not serve the benefit for more than just the user. To meet this problem, Dean Kamen, the famed inventor of the Segway, has invented the Slingshot. Using less energy than the average hair dryer, the Slingshot uses a vapor compression filtration system to produce up to 30 liters of purified water in under an hour. Teaming up with the Clinton Global initiative and Coca-Cola, Kamen aims at bringing this technology to regions and communities still lacking clean drinking water.

3. Solvaten

Swedish for ‘sun water’, the Solvaten water purifying system is spearheading the sustainable water purification market. With a capacity of up to ten liters, the device simply sits in the sun until a blinking light indicates purified water. Although it takes three to four hours to completely purify the water, the sustainability factor outweighs any inconvenience. The device is currently undergoing testing in South America with very positive results.

4. P&G Water Purification Packet

With the water purification packet, Procter&Gamble has joined the fight to end the global water crisis. Remarkably, the team of scientists behind the project has managed to condense the proprietary municipal water sanitation system into a simple packet. By adding the packet to contaminated water, stirring and sitting, the solution has been proven to remove 99.99999% of common waterborne bacteria, 99.99% of common waterborne viruses, and 99.9% of protozoa. To date, P&G can tout that over 5 billion liters of clean drinking water have been made using these packets.

5. Desalination “Water Chip”

It seems ironic that, despite being 2/3 covered by water, our planet faces a global water crisis. The painful truth, however, is that the vast abundance of water we seemingly have at our disposal is not suitable for human consumption. Anyone who has had the misfortune of ingesting a gulp of seawater understands exactly why. To meet this challenge, chemists at the University of Texas, Austin and Marburg, Germany, are developing a 21st century solution to a very old problem. The “water chip” they have developed applies a small voltage to a chip filled with salt water. While this nascent technology is currently only producing nanoliters of clean water at a rate of only 25%, the innovation will be one to keep an eye on in the near future.

– Thomas van der List 

Sources: Life Straw, Slingshot, Solvaten, P&G Packet, Water Chip
Photo: PB Works