October 25, 2006
NZ-designed water filter system will benefit millions worldwide
Pure drinking water, the most sought after commodity on the planet, could soon be within reach of millions of people
thanks to the ingenuity of Kiwi Russell Kelly, backed by space age technology developed for NASA.
His recently designed filter system can turn sewage-polluted water into drinking water. International patents and
trademarks protect the various processes.
Having lived in Kashmir on the India/Pakistan border, and having travelled widely through Asia, Kelly and wife Sue set
about inventing a simple filter system that was portable, required low maintenance and that could be operated by
gravity, bicycle power or a generator.
"We have also had 17 years practical experience in the water treatment business in New Zealand which assisted us in
developing the necessary technologies that were efficient, robust and practical, and in most cases did not require
electricity to achieve the goal. We were always confident in our ability to come up with the appropriate solution to the
problems and knew what was required, but it has taken a long time to get there," he said.
The filter system has been extensively field-tested.
"Most surface water in the world is highly polluted with sewage and for that reason we did not conduct laboratory trials
but chose to conduct real field trials that used Christchurch Avon River water that has a high E.coli count due to the
large bird numbers polluting the river.
"We also added raw untreated sewage from the city's treatment plant at Bromley at a rate of 5% to bring the E.coli and
virus counts to a much higher level than would naturally be encountered even in Asia. The results have been
extraordinarily successful and I am totally comfortable drinking this filtered water," he said.
Now that Kelly has his technology working, he has two further steps to complete his goal.
"I am in the process of setting up a charitable trust to facilitate the technology being used to support Red Cross,
Oxfam, NGO and the likes.
"And the last stage of the plan is to establish teams to travel throughout Africa and Asia and set up training
facilities and educate the villagers in the operation of the equipment so they become self-sufficient in the operation
and maintenance and only require consumables to be dispatched at appropriate intervals. To this end we envisage living
in Asia to be closer to where the technology is required," he said.
The filter is a four-step process where the polluted water first passes through a carbon-based filter. It then passes
through a specifically designed 0.2 micron ceramic filter that has an iodine resin embedded in the ceramics to filter
out cysts and bacteria and kill viruses in the water. The water then goes through a third filter which contains an
iodine scavenging resin which removes the iodine taste from the water before it passes through a final carbon-based
"The iodine technology was crucial and we have been fortunate in that NASA has not only given us the rights to use it
but also granted approval to use the Certified Space Foundation logo as they see our invention as having a Œsignificant
beneficial impact on mankind'.
"With the apparent increase in disasters worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes, floods etc, the aid organisations' resources
are spread very thinly and we see our role as supporting their efforts by supplying appropriate technology at realistic
Central to Kelly's design philosophy was the fact that the filter had to be easily maintained.
"Having witnessed village life we know that whatever piece of equipment is installed, it needs to be extremely robust to
withstand the harsh environment.
"Some villagers might be illiterate, but they are both intelligent and frugal through necessity. The design, therefore,
needed to be uncomplicated with safeguards incorporated to ensure it wouldn't operate when the filter needs servicing,"
Kelly has four models to cover all eventualities.
Gravity Survival Bag This product has been designed as a first response device for individuals and families in civil
emergencies. It is a bag that can be gravity fed with the capacity to purify 12 litres an hour. The criteria for
survival are 2 litres per person per day although 5 litres is more ideal. One in-line cartridge has a life of 3000
litres. One filter cartridge fitted to the bag can accommodate 10 people for 60 days.
Pedal Power Designed for small communities with no electricity or as first response in the aftermath of flooding,
earthquakes etc. This unit comprises five separate filtration units, which incorporate pre-filtration, ceramics and
resins. It will process 6 litres to 8 litres a minute. The 20-inch ceramic cartridge will treat 120,000 litres before
replacement. This model could sustain 3000 people's needs in an emergency. It is suitable for a small community of 1000
Under bench unit A unit that incorporates ceramics and resins and can be operated by mains pressure or a pump powered by
solar or battery with the capacity of 2 litres per minute. This is suitable for houses, clinics, dispensaries etc.
RK-40 This will process 40 litres a minute and is designed for larger villages. It can be set up
in multiples for larger requirements.
While Kelly's original aim was to produce a filter system that could be used in Third World countries, reaction from New
Zealanders who have seen the World Wide Water "Survival Bag" design indicates the potential of a local market. Civil
Defence has also indicated their interest in the bag being included in survival kits for all citizens.
"The number of people who want to buy the small gravity fed system to take camping is amazing. All they need do is
string it to a tree and they have perfectly good drinking water," he said.