Disaster Relief and Nanotech Water Filtration

by Brett van Zyl

Cans of Drinking Water for Disaster Relief

“37% per cent of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities, and over 780 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources”, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP).

This number of 2.5 billion people in water-stressed areas is said to more than double by the year 2025.

As a result of the consumption of unsafe water, the proliferation of gastrointestinal infections has caused approximately 2.2 million deaths annually where most cases have been accounted for in developing countries by children under the age of 5 years.

Traditionally, the method of offering aid to disaster regions has been to fly in vast amounts of bottled drinking water which has reached the cost of billions of dollars by the joint efforts of governments and aid agencies. This method is not sustainable as the rise of population and the spread of disease has increased, pushing the demand for even more aid resources.

A more sustainable solution to this ever-increasing problem is nano-filtration. Nano-filters are made of a thin membrane which is porous and each pore having a size measured in nanometres. Nano-filters have been used in various industrial processes, such as high-end water suppliers for consumer bottled water and in the production of semi-conductors where it serves to create ultra-pure water.

This report, created by BCC Research indicates the popularity and investment of this technology in the industry:

“The global market for nano-filtration membranes increased from $89.1 million in 2006 to an estimated $97.5 million by the end of 2007. It should reach $310.5 million by 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.1%.

The water treatment sector is projected to account for 72.7% of total revenues in 2007, worth an estimated $70.9 million in 2007 and expected to reach $238.2 million by 2012, a CAGR of 27.4%.”

Due to fairly recent advancements in nano-filtration technology, the filter as an effective aid relief water purification device is now possible and could become a sustainable means of greatly reducing the world’s death caused by gastrointestinal disease and diarrhoea.

A UK inventor and expert on water-filtration, Michael Pritchard, patented a hand-held nano-filtration system called “Lifesaver”.

Lifesaver has become such a success due to its unique design as it effectively blocks all viruses and bacteria which exist in contaminated water, resulting in safe drinking water in seconds.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ran a battery of tests on the Lifesaver device and the result was a 100% success rate of blocking all viruses and bacteria.

The smallest known bacterium, Tuberculosis bacteria, is 200nm in dimension and the smallest known virus, Polio, is 25nm in dimension.

The membrane pore size on the Lifesaver is 15nm in size and this ensures that both bacteria and viruses do not pass into the safe drinking water.

Two primary humanitarian models are produced:

  • The first model is the individual-use type which takes the appearance of a drinking bottle and can filter up to 6,000 litres of water before the filter needs to be replaced.
  • The second model takes the appearance of a Jerry-can and can filter up to 20,000 litres of water. This has the potential to offer a family of four enough safe drinking water for 3 years.

The known limitations of this device at the moment is that it does not serve to desalinate water and of course, an existing water supply needs to be present in order to sanitise and make use of it – ruling out this device’s effectiveness in extreme-arid regions where bottled water has to be flown in. For desalination of water, you would need to consider the use of Reverse-Osmosis (RO) systems or Distillation.

The initial unit prices are a bit costly at $179 per Lifesaver bottle, but if you divide that value by the 6000 litres which the bottle can produce, you are looking at roughly 3 cents per litre which is a mere fraction of what you may expect to pay for bottled water.

The problem of water shortages throughout the world, primarily in disaster-prone regions, is only getting worse as the annual number of disease cases and fatalities are increasing. This indicates that traditional methods are losing their effectiveness due to the sheer scale of the problem and so we need to look towards technology and the ideas of tomorrow in order to find suitable and sustainable means of bringing safe drinking water to those who need it.

Living-Water is an environmentally friendly water company that supplies organizations across the greater London catchment area with water coolers.

Cans of drinking water for disaster relief via Shutterstock

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