SUMMARY: Our interdisciplinary team has developed a low cost, robust, and reliable arsenic removal technology, Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR), to sustainably provide affordable, environmentally friendly arsenic-safe drinking water to arsenic-affected communities. ECAR uniquely fits into a comprehensive business model that overcomes challenges to which previous implementations have succumbed.
PROBLEM SPACE: Naturally occurring arsenic contamination of groundwater has been discovered in Mexico, China, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh and the United States. In many areas surface waters are unavailable or microbiologically contaminated, leaving no viable alternatives. Bangladesh and India are severely affected, with over 60 million exposed to toxic levels of arsenic in drinking water (worldwide estimates are 140 million and increasing as new areas of contamination are discovered). Long-term exposure has horrific health outcomes: incurable dermatologic, neurologic, and vascular damage, and cancers that result in amputations or death. Children suffer from a demonstrable decrease in IQ, reinforcing the cycle of poverty.
Despite this severe crisis, there are no affordable, replicable, financially sustainable, and technically effective solutions in place that address the real needs of arsenic-affected communities. In a recent study, 90% of deployed arsenic treatment technologies failed within six months, usually because they were not affordable, repaired, or maintained. There is a strong need for full socio-technical solutions, with systems thinking (i.e. technical efficacy, education, and accountability integrated into a viable delivery model) rather than BAU design and deployment. Without this transformation, the aptly named largest mass poisoning in human history will persist as it has for the past three decades.
SOLUTION: Scientists at Berkeley Lab developed ECAR to meet international standards for arsenic in water while supporting a sustainable and scalable business model. This initiative is visionary in two aspects: 1) ECAR is purposefully designed to support a locally viable business model that overcomes the causes of previous implementation failures, and 2) ECAR is novel (and patented), representing a dramatic shift from the existing adsorbent-media technologies that dominate the market.
In ECAR, highly effective iron-based adsorbent is generated in situ when a small voltage (solar or intermittent grid) is applied to ordinary steel plates immersed in arsenic contaminated water. The in situ process increases efficiency and effectiveness (in part, by converting arsenic-III to arsenic-V) while eliminating environmentally hazardous, logistically intensive adsorbent-regeneration, and the need for centralized manufacturing or importing of media. ECAR is backed by strong deep science (see publications and awards, below).
ECAR’s first implementation is in a highly arsenic-affected part of India: West Bengal. The science and engineering design was developed at Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB); the social science and community relations expertise was drawn from Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata; and the business expertise and experience from Luminous Water Technologies Pvt Ltd. (LWT), India.
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