Help is on the Way
Floods account for more than half of global disasters, affecting more people than any other type of disaster.
The menace of flooding is well known to the estimated 65,000 people living in Budalangi, an area in western Kenya near the Uganda border that is inundated by floods every few years. “We are continually rebuilding our houses only for the floods to affect us again,” says one resident. “We are always starting from scratch.”
Mudimbia, a village in Budalangi, will be the site of a disaster relief demonstration conducted by Oregon-based Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) in collaboration with the Kenyan Water for Health Organization (KWAHO), the lead agency on the project. In 2007, raging floods along the nearby Nzoia River displaced 40,000 people in the area and killed five.
The project will focus on using the HydroPack™, a paper-thin 4-inch by 6-inch pouch filled with electrolytes and nutrients that on contact with water, swells up over an 8-to-12 hour period to create a flavored, healthy drink.
“It doesn’t matter what the quality of water is like,” says Keith Lampi, vice president and chief operating officer for HTI. "There just needs to be a source of water, even dirty or brackish water, and we can supply clean drinks at the initial stages of a disaster using the HydroPacks™.”
The HydroPack™ uses a membrane made from Eastman cellulose acetate that is the heart of HTI’s Forward Osmosis technology.
“HTI uses Eastman’s cellulose acetate as part of a proprietary process to make the HydroPack™ membrane in such a way that it has tiny pores which allow water to pass through,” says Jos de Wit, senior research associate for Eastman. “Salts and sugars are unable to get through the HydroPack™ membrane. HTI used independent laboratories to show that the membranes meet or surpass reductions for bacteria and viruses as specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for water purifiers.”
Over a 10-day period (Jan. 18-28, 2011), 20,000 HydroPacks™ will be distributed to the approximately 87 households in Mudimbia to use as they would in a disaster scenario. Another 10,000 will be donated to a relief organization in Kenya so they are readily available for the next flood in the country.
“Water is one of the first things that a victim of a natural disaster has to have to survive,” says Nathan Jones, vice president of government and institutional sales for HTI. “Many of the deaths that occur from natural disasters don't happen because of the disaster itself, but what happens later – the water-borne disease that sweeps through the population.”
Because of its light weight, the HydroPack™ offers huge logistics savings compared to bottled water, the current method of providing drinking water the first 10 days following a disaster. “One helicopter filled with HydroPacks™ equals 15 helicopters of bottled water,” explains Jones. “Imagine the cost savings that you could bring to a relief situation...the speed in delivering supplies.”
In parallel with the pilot demonstration, Austen Angell, president of Modern Edge, a Portland, Oregon design firm, is leading the design of the product system, packaging and graphics along with a user-research program to study how the HydroPack™ is used in a disaster-type situation. The research will help optimize the design of the next generation system.
“What’s exciting about working with HTI and Eastman is you’ve got the business, the technology and the people all brought together into one program,” says Angell. “So we’re able to leverage Eastman technology, the R & D that HTI has done, and measure it against the efficacy in the field and how much it really impacts these people’s lives. As a designer, I don’t think you can ask for much more of a challenge.”
Making Forward Osmosis Work
Soon after the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) distributed 24,000 HydroPacks™ at local missions and medical facilities.
It takes 8-to-12 hours for the HydroPack™ to activate and be ready to drink. So John Reese, production supervisor for HTI, placed about 5,000 HydroPacks™ in a swimming pool one night. On waking up the next morning, Reese looked in the pool to find a rainbow of “little miniature footballs” that prompted him to exclaim, “Yes!”
Adds Reese: “I know they work. I make them. I test them. But to see them in the field and to hand into the hands of little ones – this little bag of juice and a straw and watch their face light up. They are a kid and they got Kool-Aid™. That's what they thought...that I had handed them a little package of happiness.”
“Our experience in Haiti with the HydroPack™ confirms everything that we believed about the product and the technology,” says Nathan Jones, vice president of government and institutional sales for HTI. “It is simply an ideal product for disaster relief.”
The HydroPack™ uses a proprietary membrane based on Eastman cellulose acetate that makes the Forward Osmosis process work. “The membrane is key to what we do,” says Keith Lampi, vice president and chief operating officer for HTI. ”If you don't have a membrane, you don't have a technology.
“Cellulose acetate inherently likes water,” Lampi explains. “We're able to configure it in different forms to make a very thin, flat sheet membrane that allows us to put a rejection layer on it. This allows the water to go through the membrane while blocking all the contaminants.”
“There are several markets for the HydroPack™,” says Jones. “We’ve been working with the military for years. We see a recreational market and, of course, there’s disaster relief. All of these share a need for simple and reliable technology. And that's what the HydroPack™ brings.”
HTI's X-Pack™, used by soldiers to drink the floodwaters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, can be filled with water from a ditch to produce a clean drink.
Forward Osmosis also can be used to purify seawater in an emergency. HTI offers SeaPack Crew™, a package with three single use pouches, each producing 17 ounces or 500 milliliters of life-saving fluids within 10 hours.
“Forward Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that has been around forever,” says Keith Lampi, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI). “It’s how a tree draws water from the ground through the root into the leaves and the upper branches. It’s how grapes are made into raisins.”
Starting in a Corvallis, Oregon, garage in 1987, Lampi and some college friends began focusing on how Forward Osmosis could be used in various humanitarian and industrial applications.
“For many years, we were the sole voice in the wilderness saying, ‘This is a great technology,’” says Lampi. “That’s no longer the case. We’re not the only cheerleaders.”
“This is actually allowing Mother Nature’s forces to work for you rather than trying to fight it,” says Jos de Wit, senior research associate for Eastman who specializes in membrane technology. “The cellulosics technology is the heart of the membrane.”
Adds Lampi: “Eastman has made cellulose material for us that meets unique specs that we need for Forward Osmosis to be successful."
“Cellulose esters are incredibly versatile materials,” explains de Wit. “And when you think about it, nature provides the backbone for these polymers. Trees and plants are made out of cellulose. This bio-diversity clues you in on the tremendous possibilities of what can be done with cellulosics.”