Dr. Ashok Gadgil – UV Waterworks
This is the first in a series of profiles about people who are making a change in the world of water conservation and sanitation, and why not start with someone who has fostered big change throughout the world, Dr. Ashok Gadgil. Dr. Gadgil started his education with theoretical physics, getting a M.Sc. from IIT, Kanpur in India where he was born. He soon found that he wanted to learn a science that he could use to have a positive impact on the world, and therefore turned to applied physics, gaining a B.Sc. from Bombay University, as well as a Ph.D from theUniversity ofCalifornia,Berkeley. After graduating he began working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researching solar energy applications, energy efficiency, and indoor air pollution. Having grown up inIndia he soon returned there to see what help he could lend to their problems, staying there until 1988.
One problem in India that especially stood out to him was that of water contamination.As a child he had seen five of his cousins die from what he now knows were water borne diseases. When there was an outbreak of cholera inIndiain 1993, killing up to 10,000 people, he decided that he had to do something. He started by asking himself “why is it that so many people die of lack of safe drinking water?” From his experience in the sciences he knew that besides boiling and chlorinating, water could also be disinfected by certain UV light. How this works is the UV light damages the DNA of viruses and bacteria so that it cannot reproduce, effectively killing them off. Dr. Gadgil started to work nights and weekends, using labs and equipment leant to him by colleagues, as well as some graduate students, to start trying to figure out a solution to water contamination using UV light. His first had to think about where his device was going to be used; in rural, poor parts of the world. Therefore, his device needed to be inexpensive, reliable, and easy for people to maintain.
After gaining some funding from federal and private donors he started to put his first prototype together, calling it UV Waterworks. A success in that it could disinfect 8 gallons of water a minute for only two cents per ton, it was large, heavy and expensive. Also, to his surprise, when he field tested this prototype in Indiahe was told that its output volume was more than what was practical for the villagers. So Dr. Gadgil went back to the drawing board. The next prototype was compact, weighed only 15lbs, had no moving parts, produced four gallons of clean water (kills 99.999% of bacteria and virus’) in a minute for 4 cents a ton, and cost only $600. Its design is simple, consisting of a compact enclosed box with a UV light above a shallow pan. Water is gravity fed into the pan, exposed to the UV light, and then flows into a holding tank. Due to it not having any moving parts this model was very easy to maintain, only requiring cleaning the water pan once a month and changing out the UV lamps once a year. Further, it could be powered by a car battery, bicycle generator, wind, or even solar power. This model was tested inIndia, thePhilippines,South Africa, andMexico with great success. After this it was licensed to Waterhealth International, Inc. who produces the UV Waterworks inNapa,CA. It has also won two awards, Discover Magazine’s 1996 Award for Technological Innovation (Environmental Category, and Popular Science Magazine’s “Best of Whats New” 1996 Award, and Dr. Gadgil won the European Inventor Award in 2011.
Today, UV Waterworks has helped more than 2 million people around the world. It has also evolved into different versions for small or large applications, emergency use, and to filter out larger contaminants such as silk. These versions can also be modified to be pressure or pump fed depending on the application. It has been estimated that inManilaalone several thousand people get their water everyday from vending stations using UV Waterworks’ device. Dr. Gadgil continues to help the developing world, including being part of the Darfur Stoves Project, and serving on numerous advisory committees and as a consultant. To see Dr. Gadgil in action check out the movie FLOW, where he talks about UV Waterworks and shows one of the larger installments in action.
Check out this video to see Dr. Gadgil explaining UV Waterworks
Please check back for the next profile of a true water hero. (My plan is to post a new profile weekly)
If you liked (or disliked) this post please leave a comment.