Final Report: Low-Cost Water Purification System: Developing an Effective Water Purification System for Local Production Which Offers Sustainable Economic Stimulus

EPA Grant Number: SU833176
Title: Low-Cost Water Purification System: Developing an Effective Water Purification System for Local Production Which Offers Sustainable Economic Stimulus
Investigators: Acevedo, Joaquin , Gilliam, Amanda , Lloyd, Brandon , Ortiz, Enrique , Ramirez, Eugineo , Reyes, Fernando , Hadou, Katherine , Grimmer, Laura , Ikonomov, Petre , Staley, Samantha , Lemley, Shea , Topgi, Snehalata
Institution: Illinois Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2006 through May 30, 2007
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


According to the World Summit of Sustainable Development, the major reason for lack of safe water is either scarcity of water or contamination of water sources. Lack of safe drinking water is due to both lack of investment in water systems and inadequate maintenance of existing systems. About half of the water in drinking water supply systems in the developing world is lost to leakage, illegal hook-ups and vandalism. In some countries, drinking water is highly subsidized for those connected to the system, generally well-to-do people while poor must rely on either expensive private sellers or unsafe sources. According to the UNICEF, lack of access to safe water is having a disastrous impact on children across the world. Reasons for this include shortage of water, poverty, and lack of education about the impact of drinking unpurified water. Nearly, 2.2 million children die annually from water born diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that at any given moment, approximately one half of all peoples in the developing world are suffering from one or more of six primary diseases caused by poor water supply and suboptimal sanitation. These six diseases are diarrhea, ascaris, dracunculiasis, hookworm, schistosomiasis and trachoma. The economic impact on developing countries of large proportions of people suffering from such diseases is understandably dreadful. With an eye on developing nations, this project seeks to find sustainable, yet economically and socially practical solutions to the problems associated with polluted water. Many techniques such as chlorination, distillation, boiling, sedimentation, and use of high tech filters have been utilized to purify water. These methods, however, face major barriers such high price, maintenance, conservation of fossil fuels, and unhygienic waiting periods. Our proposed solution to this problem involves production of a low cost and effective water filter (KlarAqua), which requires no electricity, Besides being sustainable, it is environmentally friendly, easily implemented, and easily produced by a local artisan. The system eliminates bacteria, removes turbidity, has strong potentials to remove other common surface and groundwater pollutants, requires no extra equipment to store pure water and its application can be tailored to regional social and cultural factors. The main objectives of the project are to produce filters that:

  1. Can effectively remove bacteria and other contaminants from drinking water,
  2. Are easy for people to use,
  3. Are easy for local potters to produce,
  4. Have an acceptable flow rate (one that will not make people too impatient to use),
  5. Are of little or no cost to users,
  6. Can be easily implemented with an effective educational system,
  7. Inspire users to practice good hygiene,
  8. Inspire economic growth by promoting health and creation of jobs.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

In response to this challenge, IIT's team of students and faculty proposes a low-cost ceramic water filter as a means of removing turbidity and eliminating bacteria and other pollutants from water. With improved efficiency, decreased energy and less equipment necessary than any current portable water purification systems, the proposed filter "KlarAqua" offers a sustainable solution to the problems associated with lack of access to clean water in developing countries. Focusing on third world countries, our goal is to allow these filters to be easily produced by local artisans and potters from local material.

The team of students and faculty at HT-Monterrey Tee began this project with the notion using local clay, colloidal silver and sawdust to fabricate a filter. Student teams were divided into three subgroups, each focusing on a specific element of the project: defining the best and the most reliable composition of the filter, designing the prototype, and performing initial economic analysis and business planning for its implementation (market analysis, market penetration techniques, and education and training programs). The composition team has begun to investigate the following three aspects: the intricate properties that colloidal silver reactions undergo in relation to bacterial contaminants, the correct ratio of clay and saw dust and the shape of the filter. Testing has been performed in all three aspects to evaluate the most cost-effective filter composition, weighing effectiveness of filtration and flow rate against the cost of colloidal silver and the ratio of clay to sawdust.

This team has designed a product (KlarAqua), which can be made entirely by the local population using local materials, without complicated industrial technology, and with a useful lifespan. The design team investigated available local materials and used information as their starting point for the design. A derivation of common plastic containers, initially proposed for carrying water and storage, resulted in a more efficient, yet simpler design. Subsequently, the design team was able to overcome a major obstacle, the potential for the unpurified water to bypass the filter as it flows downward. The proposed modification to such containers ensure that our product maintains cultural relevancy, sustainability and accessibility since it will resemble current water storage devices and the components necessary for production will be readily available for years to come. IIT's"s team has designed and produced a simple yet effective process to convert local materials into a water filter, which can be made and used by the average person living in the local areas in need of clean water. The business team, in partnership with a team of students from Monterrey Tec. chemical engineering department in Mexico, pursued testing, business planning and market analysis for the implementation of the designed filter. The rural areas surrounding Monterrey were selected as our first test market (phase I pilot study). Analysis of current water purification systems, water safety knowledge level and demand for personal-use water purification system has begun but requires further research. The marketing plan is designed in such a fashion that it can easily be modified according to the cultural factors and nuances of areas in which the product is going to be used and promoted. For example, hospitals and clinics can be used as an education arena, since those recovering from an illness are at high risk for water-borne diseases. More educational ideas were developed as the business team gained a better understanding of its potential market. The business team has also developed a training program, which will teach local potters and artisans how to manufacture the water purification system (including manuals using pictures and graphics, written in the local language). Upon conclusion of preliminary analysis, the team identified a need for collaboration with local leaders and NGOs in order to effectively promote the need for safe drinking water and sustainable use of the developed water purification system. By engaging churches and political figures in our efforts to promote the health and economy of their community, more of the population can be reached and in the most culturally appropriate manner.


The project was successful and able to optimize the design of a cost effective, yet efficient, easy to produce, and easy to use water purification filter (Klar.Aqua) for developing and underdeveloped countries. Intrinsically, KlarAqua has considerable potential for offering a balance between the elements of people, prosperity and the planet. The design is currently optimized for bactericidal effectiveness, demonstrating 98% efficiency against Escherichia coli and 95% efficiency against Psuedomonas aeroginosa; the most commonly identified bacterial pathogensin waters around the world. The current design produces approximately 0.4-1 L/hr of filtered water and uses about 5mL of 2000-ppm colloidal silver per filtration system. The current system poses no threat of leaks or contamination of filtered water due to the system's enclosed design.

The future work (phase II) involves minimization of the amount of colloidal silver needed and determination of an optimum flow rate without compromising the bactericidal effectiveness of the filter. In addition, a synergistic component i.e. an add on cartridge will be designed and tested during the phase II study in order to make filter more functional, and tailored to the type of pollutants identified in different areas of the world. For example during our preliminary study we discovered that in addition to the bacteria, most ground waters in Mexico contains high levels of calcium and magnesium, which needs to be removed. Arsenic has been identified as one of the most profound water pollution problems in Bangladesh. Hardness and Arsenic removal units of KlarAqua filtration system are under development and require more testing and characterization prior to being introduced to the market.

Pilot study has begun in the Agua Nuevo and Delgado villages outside of Monterrey, Mexico in October 2006 in order to identify the most effective method for the project implementation. Target communities were identified according to their need for clean water and capability of producing the product locally. The initial analysis indicated that (a) both lIT and Monterrey, Tee. should be actively involved with the initial implementation plans and market penetration. Programs such as " Volunteers for Sustainable Development" can be established using existing resources at the universities, i.e. IPRO program at lIT or Senior Design and/or Social Study Courses at the Monterrey Tee, (b) KlarAqua should collaborate with firms or organizations that are capable of implementing multilingual product training, and providing financial support for the project implementation, and (c) Target communities must be educated on the importance of water purification and also how to obtain, maintain, and use their filtration system (phase II). Experience gained from pilot study also suggested that a successful implementation of the project requires collaboration with local agencies and/or NGOs.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies Objective 1. Design Optimization for Removal of Other Pollutants

Analysis of water pollution problems in Mexico has indicated that in addition to bacteria, water in Mexico has a high level of calcium, magnesium and traces of iron (high hardness). Accordingly, the phase II study directed its effort toward :(a) design, manufacturing and testing of a prototype cartridge (a synergistic system) for removal of hardness and other pollutants (i.e. arsenic) from water, (b) optimizing the overall design of the filter, and (c) conducting field tests to evaluate effectiveness of the modified design (i.e. KlarAqua (Type H) for removal of Hardness in Mexico).

Objective II. Design of a Sustainable, Low Cost Water Pump

During our pilot study, KlarAqua team has also learned that the rural communities in Mexico have significant problems with accessing their main source of water, which is the groundwater. A more in-depth analysis of this problem indicated that most pumps in rural areas are wind­powered pumps, and, therefore, have potentials to break easily as wind direction and/or speed changes. In our visit, we also observed that most housing in these communities use a small solar panel (located on their roofs) for generating electricity. These information directed students' effort toward the second project objectives: identifying the most environmentally and economically feasible method(s) for pumping groundwater in rural areas of Mexico. The proposed efforts will include but are not limited to using existing resource to design and manufacture a prototype for a low cost, and easy to use water pump (followed by a field test study) in order to assure sustainable access to the groundwater in these areas.

Analysis of Manufacturing and Implementation Strategy

Geographic Location. KlarAqua chose Mexico, specifically Monterrey, because it has a high percentage of people without access to potable water. Mexico's location relative to the USA also makes it a more feasible enterprise for KlarAqua. The geographic location chosen in Mexico is defined by two factors: the population with potable water service and the urbanization level.

Production process. Filters can be produced by either local potters, or local industry, and distributed to the community upon being inspected for their effectiveness (i.e, flow rate, and integrity). Inspection can be performed by local government employees or students at the universities who are associated with the project. The "Know How" manual prepared in phase I will be expanded to include the new designs/modifications to the filter (i.e. the cartridge). If needed, upon completion of the cartridge design, this unit is produced by local industry and distributed to the community at a reduced cost. A well-designed business plan will be developed in order to identify implementation options and affordability of the final product. Participating faculty and students will guarantee the quality of the pilot program, and make sure that no unanticipated mistakes are made during the production of the filters. The potter may teach his apprentices or assistants to make the filters as well, but must sign a contract that he will not alter the production process.

Education and Quality Control.

Through a well structured monitoring program, local offices established at the university or local government ensure quality of the production and the safety of KlarAqua's consumers. The quality control program developed in this study relies on "Education and Training" for both students at partner universities (through collaborative research and course developments), and people at local areas of Mexico who would produce, manufacture, use, and maintain the developed technology (ies).

Milestones. The first critical milestone for the Phase II project is to complete the design and ensure quality of the KlarAqua (Type H) (for both removal of bacteria and hardness).Upon analysis of potential pathways for effective and sustainable method of implementation, Phase II will propose the most cost-effective and reliable means of accessing water resources, and purifying water for drinking in selected areas in Mexico. The next most important milestone toward implementation of the project is to identify local NGO or local government that is willing to partner with IIT-Monterrey Tec.-RPI universities for implementation of the project. In the event that KlarAqua does not find an interested NGO, it could, conceivably become its own non-profit organization moving toward opening offices in Mexican cities near communities in need of clean water.

Partnership. Students and Faculty at Partner Universities (lIT-Monterrey Tee. -RPI) will work together on all identified problem areas for the Phase II study: Design modification of the filter, Design of a low cost water pump, and Development of implementation strategy and educational programs for the production and proper use of the filters and the pumps in Mexico.

Evaluating difficulties, risks and opportunities: The biggest risk in product development has been, and will continue to be, the quality control. The effectiveness observed during laboratory tests is irrelevant if the product is manufactured differently in the field. Therefore, the product must be developed with clear guidelines as to the minimal standards. Accordingly, detailed know-how manuals including quality control check points will be produced in order to demonstrate production procedure and effective method of use for both filters and the pumps designed in this study. A cost-benefit analysis will be performed to evaluate the savings of using the filter against the cost of the acquisition of bottled water (a common practice in communities where ground water is hard and not useful as a source of drinking water).

This project provides an opportunity to enhance both health and economic growth in developing countries. The sustainability of the project relies on: a proper community outreach, sufficient education and training at local levels, a well planed business structure for the implementation of the technology (ies), technology affordability, and the level of collaboration between the universities, local leaders, NGOs, industry, and government offices.

Supplemental Keywords:

KlarAqua, Water Filter, Low Cost Water Pumps, Sustainable Development, Water Pollution, Developing Countries, Ceramic Filters,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Geographic Area, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Environmental Chemistry, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Country & Regional Programs, International, Environmental Engineering, environmental technology, sustainable development, clean technologies, green design, sustainable water use, drinking water, environmental sustainability, clay water filters, pollution prevention