WaterStep's M100 Chlorine Generator
Many of you have been interested in the technology I am using for water purification projects in Malawi. I’ve brought two devices, both from the non-profit WaterStep. The first is the subject of this article, the M100 Chlorine Generator, and the second I’ll detail in a later post, the Bleach Maker. Both systems are incredibly simple to use and maintain. Furthermore, they are locally sustainable.
What do you mean by sustainability?
Sustainability, is a catch phrase thrown around a lot these days, so I’ll define it for the purposes of this article. Here, sustainability incorporates two ideas: 1) how the system is operated, and 2) how the system impacts the local economy. To be useful, the systems must be maintainable using only materials found commonly within the local economies, and provide an economic output that adds to, not disrupts the local economy. Both these systems require little maintenance, operate using commonly obtained resources, and provide products that can be monetized.
Often, these are details overlooked by developmental NGOs and Non-Profits. One example is the digging of wells for fresh water access. Most organizations provide a well, but fail to provide any maintenance training to the people using it every day. This oversite has resulted in the vast majority of wells being abandoned after only two years of use. Sadly, many times all that is needed is a .50 cent part. There is another side effect that people don’t realize for those communities who benefit from a well for only a few short years. For infants and children under 5 years old, to have access to clean water, only to have it taken away, proves devastating to health. Organizations like World Vision and Save the Children report that there can actually be a dramatic increase in the number of infant deaths following the installation of a well because once it breaks down, the children are stuck drinking unclean water again and their immune systems can no longer support the dirty water. Thus, many children become sick and die.
A much better approach would be to train someone in the maintenance of wells, provide them the necessary tools, and help them build a business servicing the area. Another common example would be the shoe company Toms, where for each purchase you make the company donates a pair of shoes to a person in need. However, this model results in the market being flooded with free shoes, which risks putting anyone else locally selling, manufacturing, or repairing shoes out of business.
With that out of the way let’s check out the WaterStep M100 Chlorine Generator! Designed to be used in developing counties and disaster areas the M100 is easily transported, has few moving parts, and purifies large volumes of water using nothing more than a handful of salt and a 12-volt power source, generally a car battery.
The unit itself is about the size of an American football, and the entire system can easily fit inside standard carry-on luggage. Included in the box is the system, replacement parts, and both printed and digital versions of the operations manual. The manual uses easily understood pictures that make installation and use very simple.
The M100 can chlorinate water at a rate of 55 gallons a minute up to 10,000 gallons. Yeah, you read that right 10,000 gallons! It does all this with merely a handful of table salt, the cheapest most abundant material on earth, and an internationally readily available 12-volt car battery. It also produces two useful bi-products, chlorine and sodium hydroxide. Chlorine, of course, can be used for general sanitation, and sodium hydroxide is like a mild liquid plumber that can be used to kill mosquito larva or deodorize latrines.
Obligatory Safety Message!
Now the system does have some limitations. It cannot remove heavy metals like arsenic or lead, nor does it remove salt from salt water. Also, it is not a filter so it does not remove sediments. One problem with filters is that they require a replaceable filament. Thus, they are not sustainable. However, sediment can generally be removed using something as simple as a t-shirt.
How does this miracle system work? Well, it works through, wait for it…………science! Not scary science though, it’s actually pretty simple. Essentially, once you have it set up, an electrical current is used to split some molecules creating a chlorine gas, through electrolysis, that is circulated through the water killin the nasites. Wait, isn’t chlorine gas a chemical weapon?! Can be… yeah, but this is not nearly as concentrated as weaponized chlorine. Also, the system should be operated outside. So…… ok…… that’s cool……. but……like…. why don’t you just use liquid chlorine? Now, liquid chlorine is effective for water purification, however, using a gas allows the M100 to chlorinate tons of water much more quickly. Also, liquid chlorine isn’t always available and can be expensive, therefore, it’s less sustainable. This is especially true when purifying water for an entire community.
Ok….elctrolysisifying and splitting molecules to make gas, I thought you said this is simple? It is, I promise. Just stay with me.
The chlorine generator has two chambers separated by a membrane. On one side, you pour in a salt water solution. This is mixed with the before mentioned table salt in an included container. That creates sodium chloride. On the other side, you pour in water. Just water, nothing fancy. Then you hook it up to a car battery via the connectors attached to the unit. You will start to see bubbles and smell chlorine. This is where electrolysis comes in. The sodium chloride is split, and the sodium moves through the membrane leaving only chlorine. That chlorine is turned into the gas. The gas is circulated through a set of hoses attached to a small submersible pump. The force of the waters movement through the hoses creates a vacuum that sucks the chlorine gas into the water.
The time required will depend on how much water needs to be chlorinated, but its quick…. real quick. Up to 55 gallons per minute quick! How do you know when the water is ready to drink, you ask? You use the included test kit, see WaterStep thought of everything! Once you reach the correct level of chlorine in the water, wait about an hour and check again. If the test kit still indicates an acceptable level of chlorine, drink up!
But Wait There’s More!
Now you have two by-products, the chlorine and sodium hydroxide. The sodium hydroxide is the result of the sodium moving across the membrane into the second chamber from earlier. Cutting the chlorine with water allows it to be used as a general disinfectant, and the sodium hydroxide kills mosquito larva, or if recycled reduces the amount of time required to purify your next batch of water. If you can’t use either of the by-products just pour them back together and they turn back into harmless salt water. Cool huh!
Obligatory Safety Message!
Here, is where I should mention the importance of receiving the appropriate training to use the M100 Chlorine Generator. WaterStep provide several classes related to operating their equipment, repairing wells, and teaching health and hygiene classes. You can even travel overseas with them to provide safe water to folks. They are definitely worth checking out, especially, if you are in the Louisville, Kentucky area. They are very accessible and would be happy to give you a tour of their facility and tell you their story.
To learn more about WaterStep take a look at their website at this link: http://waterstep.org
If you'd like to see WaterSteps technology and training in action check out my project in Balaka, Malawi.
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