The humanitarian aid and development sector is filled with great ideas. But one question that is being increasingly asked is whether or not a new idea has the potential to scale to help millions. In this post, we share five ideas designed to address a lack of drinking water, as originally reported by The Guardian, to see how they fare on the critical question of scalability.
A filter printed with words, or a book made of pages that filter “99.9% of bacteria”. It is expected to feature tutorials, reflections and storytelling once funding is complete.
Will it scale: As with most of these ideas, filtering techniques work on the assumption that water exists, just not in a drinkable state. This filter is designed for individual use, so scaling is difficult given that each individual will not only need to acquire the filter, but then also learn how to use it correctly.
WaterSeer, a portable air water condenser
WaterSeer is an attempt to harness water vapor and turn it into drinkable liquid. Field trials are expected by late Spring.
Will it scale: As a retail innovation, the answer depends on its ability to be manufactured and delivered across the world. Details on materials, chosen to achieve “the maximum water yield”, are scarce.
Perforene―A thin graphene filtering membrane
It the thinnest, sharpest and quickest filter ever. Made from graphene, it prevents clogging, can desalinate water, and works in the most hostile environments.
Will it scale: The chemistry world is currently debating who owns the intellectual property of graphene. While the material itself cannot be protected, Perforene™ is a Lockheed Martin patent. As such, scaling may be a matter of whatever commercial case can be made.
A massive network to harvest water from fog or cloud forest ecosystems. In these places, water is basically up for grabs, with the estimated ability to collect over six thousand liters of water every day.
Will it scale: This innovation suggests a complementary question: how much scale is enough? Cloud forests, are exclusive to equatorial South America, South East Asia, and (some) in Africa. As such this may have a finite population it can serve. However, if it works well, these communities will certainly benefit.
Solar crop, sunlight-powered irrigation
Indian farmers already can receive subsidies for energy to tap groundwater for irrigation. This technology would mostly save energy, and perhaps water, as long as subsidies end over-irrigation. A plausible thing, provided farmers become owners and traders of solar energy.