15 Concepts and Solutions for Providing Clean Drinking Water

woman pouring water from a glass bottle in to a glass

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Young girl drinking water

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From low-tech to high-tech, concepts and solutions for providing clean drinking water are everywhere. Some are simple and portable while others are large and scalable, and we're going to need all of these varieties of ideas in order to make sure that access to safe clean water is a right, not a privilege.

Using "Super Sand" to clean water:

sand running through fingers of woman

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"Billions of people lack access to clean drinking water and researchers are constantly searching for cost-effective ways to purify water for rural villages and developing areas. A team of researchers has come up with just such a possible solution using "super sand," or sand coated in an oxide of graphite. Using sand to purify water is already an old strategy, but researchers from Rice University in Texas think that by coating it with graphite, the "super sand" will purify water more quickly and effectively than ever before."

Seeds of the "Miracle Tree":

Tropical green plant of Horseradishtree (Moringa oleifera)
Massimiliano Finzi / Getty Images

"Researchers from Pennsylvania State University knew that earlier studies showed that a substance from the seeds of the miracle tree, or Moringa oleifera, was able to clean water, but that the processes used in those studies were either too expensive or not feasible for producing water which could be stored. The team set out to develop a less expensive and simpler way of using the miracle tree's seeds to purify and clean drinking water that would also be more sustainable."

Bicycle Water Purifier:

Cycloclean water filter bike

© Cycloclean Nippon Basic

"Japanese company Nippon Basic created a durable bicycle equipped with a water purifier. The bicycle allows users to filter water through pedaling, enabling access to clean water for those in remote villages and disaster zones. Equipped with non-puncture tires, a pump and hoses, riders can commute to water sources, lower the hose into the source (the hose can siphon water as deep as five meters), raise the bicycle up on its stand thus lifting the rear wheel off the ground, and start pedaling. As the user rides, water is pumped into the system and passes through a series of micro-filtration membranes before it’s stored in a container."

Atmospheric Water Generators:

ecoloblue atmospheric water generator photo

"EcoloBlue Atmospheric Water Generators (AWGs) draw water from the air, with the home/office model providing up to 7 gallons (28 liters) of clean water each day."

Personal Solar Stills:


The Watercone is a simple and elegant solar still. Simply pour salty or brackish water into the pan. Then float the Watercone on top. The black pan absorbs the sunlight and heats up the water to support evaporation, and each device provides up to 1.5 liters of clean water per day.

Large Scale Solar Stills:

Suns River Still

© Suns River

"The Suns River Still (SRS) is said to be able to increase the productivity of the standard solar still by a factor of 5, to run on 95 to 100% renewable energy, and to use feed streams from a variety of sources, including saline wells, wastewater, rivers and seas. The output is pure water, which can be used for both drinking and agriculture, and a possible future use for the technology is the solar greenhouse, which could help jumpstart a new aspect of agriculture by turning "coastal deserts into suitable sites for greenhouses"

Pump while Playing:

A water pump and storage tank - Acornhoek, Hoedspruit Limpopo province. south africa
Media Club /  Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

"Spinning on the merri-go-round, clean water is pumped from an underground well into a 2,500-liter tank which is built seven meters above the ground. "A simple tap makes it easy for adults and children to draw water," boasts PlayPump's website, while "excess water is diverted from the storage tank back down into the borehole."

Well Repair and Rehabilitation:

A girl washing her hands at a borehole in southern Malawi

Guido Dingemans, De Eindredactie / Getty Images

"The non-profit organization WaterAid has developed a thoughtful solution to the broken well problem by training micro-entrepreneurs to establish well maintenance businesses. These trained mechanics are showing results, having already fixed 300 hand pumps in 2 years, bringing water to 30,000 people. WaterAid hopes to increase well repairs by 50 percent, bringing clean water to 700 more people every month."

Water-Producing Wind Turbines:

Water-Producing Wind Turbines

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"A 30-kW wind turbine houses and powers the whole system. A prototype of the technology has been installed in Abu Dhabi since October and has been capable of producing 500 to 800 liters of clean water a day from the dry desert air. Eole Water says that volume can increase to 1,000 liters a day with a tower-top system."

Table Salt Helps Clean Water:

Hands full of salt

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"Salt, a cheap and widely available material, acts as a "flocculant" -- a material which pulls together loose particles in solution until they form an aggregate heavy enough to sink to the bottom, making the murky water clear. Pearce reports: "The water has a lower sodium concentration than Gatorade. I’ve drunk this water myself. If I were somewhere with no clean water and had kids with diarrhea, and this could save their lives, I’d use this, no question.""

Sewage to Drinking Water:

water treatment plant

BNBB Studio / Getty Images

"The purification system uses a three step process: 1) Filter the water, capturing parasites such as giardia, cryptosporidium, amoebas, and anything larger than 1 micron in size; 2) remove hazardous chemicals (VOCs, chlorine, arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium) and bacteria; 3) use UV light to kill microbes."

Portable Rainwater Harvesting Units:

green Portable Rainwater Harvesting Unit

P A Thompson / Getty Images

"The Noro Rainwater Catchment and Filtration System began as a design for a rainwater filtration system for residences in downtown Vancouver that could be built from salvaged local material, but rapidly morphed into a design meant to be highly portable and easily deployed. The prototype was built using off-the-shelf components from Home Depot, and takes the form of a backpack-mounted system which can be used as either a standalone unit or in conjunction with existing rainwater catchment systems."

Solar Powered Rain Catchment and Purifier:

hydroleaf solar shelter image

"Created by Mostafa Bonakdar, a design student from Tehran, Iran, the structure is both a shelter during rain as well as a drinking fountain. It features both solar power and rainwater collection, with the solar power running a purification system inside. The structure can act as a bus shelter, a cover for benches in the park, or a number of other locations where both an awning and a bit of fresh water are welcome."

Personal UV Purifiers:

Freedom UV Water Purifier from SteriPen

© SteriPen

"The process for purifying water with it is almost dummy-proof (if you can tell the difference between a solid green light and flashing red lights), and is an 'instant on' design. Simply remove the outer case and immerse in up to 16 oz of water until the device's sensors are covered, and the UV light comes on automatically. The internal timer lets you know when the process is complete, which is 48 seconds, according to SteriPen."

Water Filtration Straws:

woman using a water filtration straw outside in a stream, winter

CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

"Vouched for by the National Association of Testing Authorities, AquaSafeStraw reports that it removes "99.9999% [of] coliforms/faecal coliforms, e-coli, staphylococcus, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, standard plate count bacteria, pseudomonas aeruginosa (bacteria causing respiratory tract infections), pseudomonas diminuta, and serratia marcescents (another form of bacteria)."

From a filter that fits in your pocket to a combination electricity and water generator, innovations in clean drinking water technology come in all shapes. And in a world where millions go without clean water on a regular basis, these types of solutions are very welcome indeed.