Final Report: ECAR- Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation for Affordable Water Security in America

EPA Contract Number: EPD14021
Title: ECAR- Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation for Affordable Water Security in America
Investigators: Pujol, John H
Small Business: SimpleWater
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: May 1, 2014 through April 30, 2015
Project Amount: $100,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Drinking Water Treatment and Monitoring , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


In 2014, EPA's SBIR funding enabled SimpleWater, LLC (SimpleWater), to mature the first radically affordable and reliable arsenic removal solution for Small Water Systems (SWS) in the United States. The solution is based on patented ElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR) technology, originally developed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (including SimpleWater Co-Founder Dr. Susan Amrose) to solve severe arsenic contamination of drinking water sources in rural India. ECAR is currently licensed in India and Bangladesh and is being rapidly scaled after receiving pilot and development funding from USAID, the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, the Siemens-Stiftung Foundation and EPA P3 Phase I and II awards, among others. In close collaboration with SWS managers and stakeholders in the United States, SimpleWater has licensed ECAR in the U.S. and designed the ECAR-based SimpleWater ArsenicRemover to embrace the specific needs of SWS while retaining the affordability, robustness and ease of operation that has made the technology a success in India.
SimpleWater is motivated by the belief that arsenic-safe drinking water should be affordable and accessible to all Americans, regardless of income. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carefully regulates arsenic in drinking water to below a health-based Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion (ppb). However, even at this low level, health experts have evidence that arsenic ingestion is associated with a shockingly high 1 in 300 excess chance of cancer that may lead to death (Arsenic in Drinking Water: 2001 Update). Across the United States, more than 3,000 SWS still struggle with meeting the EPA regulatory limit, with many more providing drinking water within the regulatory limit but at arsenic levels known to cause adverse health effects. Moreover, millions of unregulated private wells put families at an unknown risk of chronic poisoning. Existing treatment options are too expensive and difficult to operate for SWS. SimpleWater is using Phase I funds to adapt ECAR technology to provide simple, affordable and arsenic-safe drinking water to U.S. SWS.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

In 2014, SimpleWater reached out to more than 100 arsenic and SWS stakeholders in California. The company analyzed the existing problems and adapted ECAR technology to meet versatility and affordability needs of U.S. SWS. SimpleWater learned that the prevailing reasons for the high costs of conventional treatment were due to high operational costs and the high level of skill required of personnel. Operational costs were high because of a common need for pre-treatment and pH adjustment, as well as high costs of replacement adsorptive media or membranes (used in the current prevailing technology options). In fact, in almost every post-mortem study the company encountered for failed arsenic removal projects, the high cost of media replacement was among the main reasons cited for overall project failure. As a result of these findings, SimpleWater designed the ArsenicReactor to deliver comparable or better arsenic removal without costly media or membrane replacement, pre-treatment or pH adjustment. The company also designed a system using simpler operational criteria requiring less operator skill and using processes that can be easily and remotely monitored by more distant experts when needed.

With information from the Department of Public Health, California State Water Resources Control Board, and other published resources, SimpleWater surveyed the state of arsenic contamination in SWS and segmented the market. The segmentation process categorized opportunities by community and non-community water systems, and further profiled each market in terms of addressability, capacity for technology implementation, system cost, availability of financing mechanisms and customer need. Finally, the company detailed a numerical- and interview-based assessment of specific SWS. SimpleWater gathered data on existing and failed arsenic removal projects and learned about specific strengths and weaknesses of prevailing technologies and why they were failing SWS.
SimpleWater tested an ECAR-based prototype across multiple consecutive batches over several days at several locations in California's Central Valley and in Northern California's Wine Country. The sites covered various groundwater conditions, including the high pH values that are common in the United States, but more rare in South Asia where the technology has been thoroughly tested. Colusa County Water Works District #1 was an economically disadvantaged district with relatively standard California groundwater. At Livermore's Double Tree Ranch, the company tested high pH groundwater. At North Edwards Water District, the company tested its system in water with a very high arsenic concentration (> 300 ppb). Testing demonstrated that our ECAR-based prototype reactor removed arsenic in many cases to below detectable levels (less than 2 ppb; see figure below). Existing surveys of groundwater quality in California and SimpleWater's previous knowledge of how ECAR performance changes with groundwater composition allows the company to generalize these results and suggests ECAR will be highly effective in most contaminated regions of California. Expending this analysis to other U.S. regions is planned for the future. Figure 1 shows arsenic levels before and after ECAR treatment of groundwater at various sites. All post-treatment samples showed excellent removal of arsenic-laden iron particles.
To rapidly assess ECAR performance in a wide variety of groundwater compositions, a beaker-scale mobile lab ("“lab-in-a-box") was used at sites in Merced, Livermore, Grimes, Monterey, and Sonoma, California. The mobile lab rapidly tests the ability of the core ECAR technology to remove arsenic in a given aquifer.


SBIR funding has helped SimpleWater to develop an innovative product specifically catering to the well-established need for affordable arsenic treatment in SWS. The company has accomplished an awesome feat—adapting a new technology from use in dire South Asian communities to the unmet needs of U.S.-based water systems. The SimpleWater ArsenicRemover can meet drinking water technology standards enforced by the Department of Public Health; it is an automated and continuous-flow process capable of reducing arsenic concentrations to below federal (and indeed detectable) limits. The company looks forward to delivering a simple-to-operate product to many of the communities with which it has begun working. They want a solution and SimpleWater wants to provide them with the most affordable option yet.
SimpleWater tested ECAR-based prototypes at more than 10 California locations. The costs and timeframe of the final product were discussed. ArsenicRemover cannot be sold to a public drinking water system until receiving NSF 61 certification and approval from the Department of Public Health. Opportunity for rapid commercialization exists among oil and gas, food processing and mining industries where there is no need for NSF 61 certification or DPH piloting.

Supplemental Keywords:

water, arsenic, electrochemical arsenic removal, community water system