August 15, 2008

Lab work

With the departure of all but two team members, this blog has suffered some severe abandonment. The project, however, has successfully passed from stage one (water sampling, NGO visits) to stage two (lab testing) where the bear filter surprised us all with excellent results.
It started when, due to a problem with the membrane filtration device, we were forced to switch to simple Whatman filters, but found that this did not compromise the effectiveness of the process.

Next, we went about running a sample with the configuration that was found to be optimal during the Berkeley testing: The original concentration of 500-1000 ppb was brought down to the WHO standard of 0-10ppb according to the rough quicktest measures that we were able to perform. More and more boldly, we increased the flow rate from 9 to 18 liters per hour – corresponding to a significant increase both in the possible output and in the total quantity of water that can be purified with one BEAR sushi*.
These settings still proved sufficient, contrary to the tests perfomed in Berkeley – a welcome surprise, possibly thanks to the higher iron
content in the Cambodian ground water.

Next, we retested the impact of the mixing step, one part of the process that we haven't developed a field prototype for. Using the magnetic stirrer of the RDI laboratory, we tested the reduction at 0, 10, 20, 30, 45 and 60 min
utes of stirring – time in which the Arsenic ions are brought into contact with rust particles so they (now part of a bigger structure) can be filtered out later. And again, the results surprised: Even with zero seconds of mixing time, the Arsenic was almost completely removed.
The change in color on the small Quick test strips was impressive. Hopefully, the more accurate ICPMS measures that will be conducted by a specialized lab in the US will confirm our promising findings!

* We affectionately named the active filter parts after my favorite Japanese dish for its design that resembles a sushi roll.

July 17, 2008

1001 Fountains

Warmly received by the local leaders of 1001 Fountains, the six hour bus ride to Battambang was entirely worth the trouble. Around some good local and foreign meals, we were able to ask our questions related to the setup, management and financing of community water centers which are at the heart of the NGO's activities.
After having satisfied our thirst for information and food, the Khmer staff took us to a nearby village where we were able to look at one of their centers in more detail – and, of course, dream about our BEAR module one day being part of the process! :)

July 15, 2008

Comments enabled

Just a little note concerning the comment settings on the blog: They were mistakenly restricted to gmail and OpenID users, but as of today, everybody is welcome to voice his opinion!

July 10, 2008

Staffing peak

This last week, Debbie, our fifth and final team member, joined us for some Bear adventures in Cambodia. Of course, we were all thrilled to have her with us as we sampled water from local wells, questioned villagers on their water habits, traveled to Siam Reap and Battambang, enjoyed a weekend visit in Angkor Wat, learned from 1001 fountains about their experience with community water systems and almost got stranded on the bus ride back to Phnom Penh.

July 1, 2008

Water and Sanitation Meeting

This morning, John and I attended the monthly Water and Sanitation meeting hosted by the Ministry of Rural Development in Phnom Penh. It was interesting to hear from so many different initiatives, though admittedly it was a little difficult to follow everything as we are not yet familiar with all the acronyms of the NGOs and government ministries here in Cambodia. Still, we learned a lot from the presentations and had an excellent opportunity to network with organizations working on similar projects during the coffee break. GRET, a French NGO with a business counterpart, had a lot of information to offer about community-based water businesses, especially around promotion, pricing, distribution, local participation, financing, regulation, and the energy requirement of their treatment systems. We are trying to schedule a longer meeting with GRET for next week.

Back at RDI, John and I spent the rest of the day working with staff to ensure that all the supplies and logistics were confirmed for tomorrow's visit to PreakRussei, a village with documented arsenicosis and arsenic concentrations up to 3500 ppb! As always, we had to be ready to adapt to unexpected occurrences, but we are all looking forward to this trip. Here are some pictures of the beautiful RDI compound for now...more updates will come when we return from the village!
RDI farm Storage for rainwater harvesting
Rope pump
Entrance to the Resource Lab
Ceramic Water Purifier (CWP) factory at night

June 29, 2008

Week 1 Status Update

Despite some unexpected occurrences (that are often encountered in developing countries), we have been able to keep up our momentum and are almost finished with our preparation for the village visits we will be conducting in weeks 2 and 3. With the help of RDI, we pieced together the supplies we need to set up the prototype, which is now standing proudly in the resource lab, and also had our community survey translated from English to Khmer and back to English. We have also been able to review RDI's vast database of water quality parameters in wells across the Kandal Province to select areas with high arsenic concentrations (often over 500 ppb) for us to sample from during our village visits. RDI has been an incredible resource, not just for logistical support but also for cultural guidance--we are lucky to have them as our partners in this effort.

We have already completed a practice run-through of our sampling procedure and the ARUBA treatment protocol (ARUBA stands for Arsenic Removal Using Bottom Ash--by collaborating with the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group, or BAAG, we will be testing both ARUBA and the BEAR prototype in Bangladesh and Cambodia). Next week, we will be piloting the survey with our translator in a local village in the Kien Svay District to make the sure the questions can be clearly understood and are culturally appropriate. Then it's off to our first village visit in PreakRussei!

June 25, 2008

TukTuking the city

In the most authentic Khmer vehicle, a motorcycle with trailer known under the name of TukTuk, we arrived to our first NGO visit at IDE – International Development Enterprises. We were thrilled to talk to one of the leading distributors of Ceramic Water Purifiers in the country and to learn from their insight on how to aim for a profitable business strategy that would both allow for a faster distribution of the technology and offer an opportunity for micro-enterprises on the village level.
Ninety minutes later, we left the building refreshed (AC is such a blessing in this country!), encouraged and with several other contacts for further information. Even the relatively high material costs of the prototype seem not to be frightening compared to other water purification technologies, after all. And the regions with high arsenic concentration seem to be connected to an electric network for the most part, which facilitates the power supply for our filters. The willingness to pay seems to be higher than we expected, and although it is hard to estimate through a simple survey, we hope to get some more insight through our village visits next week.

The biggest encouragement to me personally, however, was the time and genuine interest that the IDE folks offered to us. It seems that there is a high awareness of the Arsenic poisoning within local NGOs and many of them are looking for a low-cost solution to the problem.