Friday , May 09, 2008
By Allison Barrie
There's a reason they call it the "Lifesaver."
On the outside, it looks like an ordinary sports bottle. On the inside, there's a miracle: an extremely advanced filtration system that makes murky water filled with deadly viruses and bacteria completely clean in just seconds.
The Lifesaver removes 99.999 percent of water-borne pathogens and reduces heavy metals like lead, meaning even the filthiest water can be cleaned — immediately.
It will be a boon to soldiers in the field, so it's winning accolades from the military.
It also stands to revolutionize humanitarian aid. It could be the first weapon in the fight against disease after a natural disaster, like the one in Myanmar this week.
I attended the Lifesaver’s launch at DSEi London, the world’s largest arms fair. Its inventor provided a pool of dirty pond water as a test subject, and I drank some after it was filtered. Not only did it look pure once it passed through the Lifesaver, it tasted pure, too.
• Click here to see a British soldier demonstrating how the Lifesaver will clean even the dirtiest water.
The process takes only 20 seconds and is simple enough: scoop some water, pump it through the filter and you’re ready to go. The instructions are displayed in pictures on the side of the bottle, so it can be used by anyone, removing the language barrier.
Outdoor enthusiasts may find it useful, but the Lifesaver is perfect for the military. The bottle is designed to “scoop and go,” so soldiers won’t have to carry the added weight of clean bottled water. They can pick some up out of any source and keep moving.
As an added bonus, the bottle can shoot a pressurized jet of water from any angle, which will be useful for washing wounds free of contaminants and debris.
Other filters use ceramic pores and can’t catch most bacteria and viruses, but the Lifesaver uses microscopic pores a mere 15 nanometers across — about one-hundredth the width of a spider’s silk — narrow enough to stop the tiniest threats. That means virtually nothing — not even bacteria and viruses — can get through.
And since the bottle uses a carbon filter, it makes water safe and sterile without any chemicals, removing that iodine or chlorine taste.
The bottle weighs about 1.5 pounds and can filter one and a half pints of clean drinking water each go. Its replaceable filter can handle more than 1,500 gallons of dirty water before it has to be replaced. And since it won’t process any water once the filter has expired, it will be impossible to drink contaminated water by mistake.
Michael Pritchard, a British entrepreneur, designed the Lifesaver in the wake of freshwater shortages that followed the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
Delivering bottled water to disaster areas is difficult, especially in places like Myanmar, where the government is currently interfering with efforts to distribute supplies and aid. If disaster victims had access to the Lifesaver, they could have ongoing access to clean water without the need for airlifts.
Delivering those planeloads of water is expensive, too. A U.S. Army study revealed that the cost of delivering bottled water to Afghanistan was $4.69 per gallon. Pentagon figures on Hurricane Mitch showed the cost of air freight was even higher: $7.60 per gallon.
Just one Boeing C-17 transport plane full of Lifesaver bottles would provide 500,000 people with access to safe drinking water for up to 16 months — saving millions and saving lives.