In many parts of the world, the most basic things are often the most difficult to come by, such as clean drinking water. While efforts to upgrade the local water infrastructure are laudable, sometimes the best solution is the simplest, because it doesn't require a ton of cash and can be implemented with the materials most likely to be on hand.
One great example of this is a collaboration between a GE engineer, a non-profit, and a number of volunteers to provide a rugged, portable water treatment device, made from ordinary materials, that could quickly treat large quantities of water. The answer came from a very basic process, electrolysis, which uses just table salt and the electricity provided by a car battery to produce chlorine gas for disinfecting water.
At the request of WaterStep, a nonprofit working to provide clean water to people in 26 developing countries around the world, GE engineers Steve Froelicher and Sam DuPlessis, along with other volunteers, began developing a water treatment system in his garage. After a year and a number of prototypes, Froelicher and his team had developed a workable design:
"The device fits inside a 10-inch PVC cylinder with two plastic tubes attached at the top. It strips chlorine from salt water by applying battery voltage across a circular membrane, a process called electrolysis. The chlorine bubbles off one of the electrodes and floats to the top where the device captures it and mixes it with contaminated water. The chlorine begins to oxidize organic matter and kills the pathogens in the water. The water is usually safe to drink two hours after chlorination." - GE Reports
This device is now the WaterStep M-100 Chlorinator, which is capable of generating enough chlorine to disinfect 38,000 liters of water per day (enough for about 10,000 people).
According to GE Reports, these devices are already purifying water for over 127,000 people, include the neighbors of Wesley Korir, winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon, who brought the device to his hometown of Kitali, Kenya.
Right now, the team is working to reduce the power needs of the device so that it can be powered by a solar panel, or even just a smaller battery. They are also working toward eliminating some of the more expensive components of the device to reduce the cost, as well as making the water treatment system faster to set up and easier to use.
Not only can these devices provide for a basic human need, but they can also be used for education, as is happening at the Sisters of Notre Dame School and convent in Uganda, where the nuns are using them as a hands-on chemistry lesson to teach their students about electrolysis.