March 13, 2012 | The Editors

It takes two to electrochlorinate

This is the story of a Seattle romance. Just south of downtown, a creative outdoor products company known for its sleeping pads, stoves, water treatment systems, and some pretty cool plastic snowshoes was seeking more uses for its extremely durable gear. Just north of downtown, an innovative global health nonprofit with a reputation for developing technologies appropriate to the places and people using them was looking for ways to provide communities in developing countries with safe water.

Click on images to enlarge.

When Cascade Designs, Inc. and PATH got together in 2008, PATH’s Jesse Schubert says, the result was “synergy.” Or, as Cascade Designs Program Manager Laura McLaughlin puts it, “You guys are interested in transitioning technologies, we have access to many technologies that could improve access to safe water.”

Water, salt, and a car battery

The technology that the partners chose to work on first is a portable, easy-to-operate device that uses salt, water, and power from a common 12-volt car battery to create a concentrated chlorine solution that can kill disease-causing bacteria and viruses in water. (Here’s how the Smart Electrochlorinator 200, or SE200, works, from our Safe Water Project team.)

Over the past few years, PATH and our partners have field tested the SE200 in ten different countries under a variety of circumstances. With field data in hand, Cascade Designs has readied its Seattle manufacturing facilities for “low-rate production” of the device. That means the company is ready to fill orders in the hundreds and can scale up production quickly if demand warrants.

A ready market?

Judging by the number of people who face each day without a safe and convenient supply of water, the demand for water treatment could be strong. As World Water Day 2012 approaches, some 880 million people worldwide still rely on “unimproved” sources, such as lakes, rivers, unprotected wells, or springs, for their drinking water. It’s estimated that improving drinking water quality could reduce the rate of diarrheal disease by a third to a half, which could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

“We see this as an opportunity that’s huge in scale,” Cascade Designs’ President Joe McSwiney told a group gathered at PATH’s Seattle headquarters recently. “The number of people lacking in basic needs is enormous.” But, he added, “as a business opportunity, this is what we call revenue challenged.”

Here’s to public-private partnership

And that’s what makes the collaboration between PATH and Cascade Designs so exciting. The private company brings their expertise in designing, developing, and manufacturing high-quality, durable products. The nonprofit contributes our long experience in determining what makes a technology work in different settings, funding and field testing prototypes, researching market potential, and introducing products in developing countries.

As we mark World Water Day and celebrate meeting the Millennium Development Goal on safe water, that’s a match worth toasting.

This project received innovation funding.

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