I use electricity to provide clean drinking water to people living in rural and First Nations communities.
On any given day, there are over 500 boil water advisories in British Columbia alone and millions throughout the world.
Small communities cannot accommodate the big treatment plants that provide clean drinking water to residents of large metropolitan centres. This is for several reasons: first, these facilities are designed to treat very large quantities of water efficiently and are not efficient for small-scale operations; second, it’s difficult for small communities to amass a group of trained or skilled operators to run them; and finally, some rural communities have very limited accessibility, sometimes only by boat or plane, and therefore have limited access to the chemicals needed.
My technology begins to address all three concerns at the same time. Some chemicals used in large treatment facilities work by causing all of the organic matter in a waterway (dirt, decaying plants) to stick together for removal. My electrochemical cell uses electricity to create these chemicals in the water. It’s small, easy to operate and negates the need to ship in chemicals.
As an engineering graduate student, I started this project in the lab trying to mimic the water systems typical of rural communities within a controlled environment. After hundreds of experiments using this testbed, I was able to scale it up to something that would work in real waterways.
Now I’m on the road using a mobile treatment pilot plant to test the system on-site. I’m excited to see the day when this system can be used in rural communities throughout the world. Having clean, drinkable water seems like a right for those of us here in Vancouver, but that is not the case for many.