When John Hardy and I discussed “base of pyramid” projects I was pursuing, he was kind enough to refer me to Greg Hinchliffe of F Cubed. A former Quiksilver surfing pioneer in Indonesia, his work led hime to be a caretaker of the environment with initiatives including the acclaimed Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation. Now Greg’s work has turned to filtering water, using another of Indonesia’s basic assets: the sun.
F Cubed was established in 2004 by Peter Johnstone, with their premier product being the Carocell. The concept is surprisingly simple: dirty water is heated by the sun and only clean water evaporates and condenses onto the clear polycarbonate film above. Clean water runs down the inside of the film and collects into containers. The process is further described on their site.
The product costs about US$500 each and from 40 liters of dirty water, generates 20 liters of clean water per day. At typical Indonesian pricing of $1.50 per 20 liter container, the payback is 1 year. Research from IDE’s Paul Polak points to a 3-4 month payback for most dollar-a-day farmers to make an investment, so they may still have some cost-cutting to get wide acceptance, but partnered with a sponsor, this could achieve wide acceptance quite quickly. Test sites are already underway, with the first Balinese installation being at Kesayan Ikang Papa Orphanage in Gianyar City. This site economized space and doubled its function by becoming a car-port roof as well.
A byproduct of the water purification is that the 20 or so liters of un-evaporated fluid is sterilized by the heat. If salt water is used as the input fluid, the resulting fluid is sterilized and concentrated, which can be used to make pickling brines or other byproducts that may have additional commercial value.
Greg also mentioned that this same technology could be used to treat industrial waste. In fact there are already looking at huge arrays of these to be deployed in parallel for such purposes.
My thought would be to simply couple this on the back side of a urinal. He said it would work. In fact, the applications seem quite endless. The beauty of it is to have a simple modular system that can be deployed as single units or massive arrays. Matching utility with simplicity and economy is exactly the type of innovation that can change the world.