Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blue Future Filters as a "Disruptive Technology"

We were talking around the office a couple of days ago about so called disruptive technologies. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were masters at this. A disruptive technology is something that simplifies an existing technology and then out competes in the market. The i-phone and i-pad are great examples. The i-phone swarmed the cell phone market with the added plus of a convenient camera and other features. The personal computer came in to make computing available without a mainframe and remote access at a terminal. These inventions totally disrupted the normal way of conducting our personal and professional lives.

Blue Future Filters started in 2003 on work by myself dating back to the early 90s. My concept was clear. The wonderful technology responsible for saving so many lives- slow sand filtration, was practiced by large engineering firms for communities and cities through large scale construction projects costing millions of dollars. I came from a different background, more consumer and distribution oriented and thought if we could turn this from a custom engineered big project focus to a manufatured approach, we could standardize, bring costs way down, and enter a potential market.

Over the years we developed a series of standard models that complied with regulations for drinking water. By combining standard inexpensive models, we changed the scale of the projects. Suddenly a project manager didn't have to plan for a 50 year life with all the expense that entails. They could look at a few years knowing they could easily add on and expand as the need arose.

In this way, Blue Future, is continuing to disrupt the standard way of approaching treating surface water for safety for individuals and communities worldwide. We are bringing to market an old established technology in new skin creating a disruptive technology to the benefit of the world.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

AWWA Short School, Eugene, Oregon, March 10.

I will be traveling to Eugene, Oregon around March 9th-11 to teach a slow sand filter roughing filter session at the American Water Works Association Short School for operators. I'll probably travel down to northern California also. If you are in the vicinity and want to get together to talk about treatment options or arrange a site visit, let me know.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Providing Water

You just bought this piece of property, closed escrow two weeks ago. You know where you're going to put your house and the septic tank. You know there are some springs somewhere up the hill by those oaks. Now what?
You open the book Providing Water, a Practical Field Guide, and sit on a stump and start leafing through it. Says here that with gravity feed, you can have a complete water system including reliable treatment with no power, no chemicals, and no replacement cartridges. Hey, this would work for the local charity's project in the Philippines, since they don't don't have power at that village or the money to buy chemicals or a lot of replacement cartridges. Cool.
 Hmm. How much water do I need? Find the chapter about assessing the need and you find out how much a person needs per day for themselves and other uses. That's interesting. Says here how much water you need depends on whether you have to carry the water, whether you have to irrigate, or wash a car, or have flush toilets. And here's a chart that shows how to calculate this. 
OK, next. You march up the hill and find the Woodwardia ferns that the book says grow around water sources. Now what? The book describes your source and how to protect it with a good spring box. So far so good. You're feeling confident now that you will be able to layout the piping and deal with the pressure and air in the lines by following the principles outlined in the book. Wow, that's neat. You can reduce the pressure by putting a small tank halfway down the hill. Who woulda thought?
But, I may need to pump to a higher location. Oh, it describes pumping  as well with choices- solar pumping, diesel, or from a reliable power grid.
You look at the drawings that detail what simple but reliable methods you can employ to remove pathogens, so your water is safe. You can manage this, it makes sense. And it's not rocket science.

The Book project

This project will produce a useful book based on my 20 plus years helping people all over the world source, treat, and provide water. The result will be a high quality document, ebook and paperback, which will include how-to, case studies, drawings, and illustrations. References will be provided for further study. To make this document maximally useful, I will reduce the jargon and use basic language, understandable by the lay person, do-it-yourselfer, development professional, disaster planner, and engineer. With this Field Guide, a person will be able to thoughtfully design and create a basic functional water system from source to tap using field tested techniques and reliable technologies. Topics include:
Table of contents
Introduction to rural water supply
Assessing the need
Assessing the water shed
Identifying sources- pros and cons
Developing a plan
Starting at the source
Community sustainability
Is it working after a year?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Great, Bill, but really? Appropriate Technology?

Normally I make a policy of not commenting on the efforts of others working with water and wastewater, because we need innovation and all  the best thinking we can get. But after seeing this, I just have to respond.
For context, some months ago I posted a blog post concerning how to select technologies in which I stated that there are fundamental requirements for any technology anywhere to be sustainable. These rules are summarized in the following graphic:

This Gate's technology would be great for anywhere there is the finance, technical and material support readily available to support it. I would love for every one of the Coal Bed Methane producers and Frackers to use this kind of engineering thinking to remove the associated pollutants so that the water could be released and reused safely. Also for military or other uses where there is an existing  strong and continuous support.

But it looks like they are thinking of this for developing country use. In this context it is a big negative. It will cease working when parts break, chemicals are not readily available, power fails, the technical expertise is not around, or the financial assets are not reliably available.

OK, so it quits working. So what. Probably financed by some sort of grants or loans from the North, No big deal...... Except for the end users.

If we are going to propose technologies that save lives and make lives better, it is a responsibility to make sure that we are proposing things that will work and be sustainable.

I have been a sad witness to many grand ideas originating in northern labs and think tanks in developing countries that looked great, but failed. When they fail, the people affected lose confidence in other proposals. Just last year, I was conversing with project directors for a drinking water project in India. We had come up with a solid, sustainable, appropriate solution using rainwater catchment and treatment. But, there was considerable resistance in the community. Why? Because previously, the same NGO had installed a high tech system that failed almost  immediately, irreparably.

Gate's foundation is doing amazing work all over the world to reduce poverty and help give people a chance to live better. On this one, they are missing the mark.

In our zeal to save the world, we need to be thoughtful about what we propose and the long term effects of our work.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 Governor's Emerging Trader of the Year- Blue Future

Thursday evening, I attended the annual World Trade Club of Washington'sTrader of the Year event  to receive the 2014 Emerging Trader of the Year award and a beautiful crystal trophy. Below are my remarks at that time:

"I want to thank the World Trade Club for this prestigious honor. We have had a joke around the office that one of these days, after years and years of hard work and ups and downs, we would become an overnight success, and this honor is certainly an indicator that we’re getting there. Much credit goes to the vigorous state and federal trade agencies in Washington that have provided Blue Future with invaluable help.

 What does Blue Future do? Blue Future makes and supplies our proprietary low tech water treatment systems to customers throughout the US and, to date, to 22 countries.  It started from my graduate work with Mayan communities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico in the early 90s and arose from a simple question.

“Is it possible to provide a reliable and safe drinking water system that will work for years, that takes water from surface sources, doesn’t require electricity, or chemicals, or replacement cartridges, and can be maintained by local people?

The answer was a 200 hundred year old biological technology called slow sand filtration, SSF. SSF removes high levels of bacteria, viruses, and cysts, making water safe. But, there’s a hitch. Traditionally slow sand filters are big, engineered, concrete and steel projects.

Blue Future solved this problem by putting the technology into new materials. This allows for a manufactured solution that amortizes the engineering over thousands of identical systems.  We supply systems that treat 450 gallons per day up to 200 gallons per minute, enough safe water for 31,000 people. The result is Blue Future can provide US standard drinking water to any community, anywhere in the world at reasonable cost.

Some of our projects over the years have included village filters for Sumatra after the 2005 Tsunami, rainforest indigenous communities in Peru, and for the last three years we have been supplying village sized filters to Safe Water Network for communities around Lake Volta, Ghana with funding from Newman’s Own Foundation and Hilton.

The bottom line for Blue Future is that 1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Two million people die every year from preventable water born disease. Blue Future’s vision is to reduce these numbers, and I wish to thank you for your recognition of our vision and efforts. "

Monday, September 8, 2014

Humboldt Bound

I'm heading to Humboldt in a week or so, my old stomping grounds. This time it is to deliver a slow sand filters system in Whitethorn, and to visit some folks along the way. If you are in Oregon, or that northern part of California, give me a nudge.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Coming up on the 20th of August is one of my favorite types of  activities- training of operators. This time it is for the Oregon Association of Water Utilities annual conference in beautiful Seaside Oregon. At these trainings, I have the opportunity of showing slow sand filters and roughing filters and their many advantages for small utilities. Small rural utilities face numerous problems in fulfilling their missions to provide safe water of the same quality as large cities. It's hard for them to attract the kind of operator who can operate a sophisticated treatment plant that requires constant maintenance and unique skills. Those operators want to live in and around cities where the big bucks are. Additionally, small utilities don't have the operating budgets to pay for disposable elements or chemicals.
Slow sand and roughing filtration answer these issues very effectively.
If your organization would like to arrange a brown bag seminar or presentation on how these technologies can work for you and save you money, please contact me to discuss- hb@slowsandfilter.com