With additional editorial support from Nathan Jones, Keith Lampi, Gaylon White, Jos de Wit
Natural disasters can happen anywhere with little or no warning. When they do, they threaten community water sources and jeopardize public health by destroying vital pipelines or existing sanitation systems allowing the introduction of contaminants into the drinking water supply. One of the most immediate concerns post-disaster is providing a supply of clean, safe hydration to survivors to help prevent the occurrence and spread of waterborne diseases.
"Water is one of the first things that a victim of a natural disaster has to have to survive," says Nathan Jones, vice president of government and institutional sales at HTI. "Many of the deaths that occur from natural disasters don't happen because of the disaster itself, but what happens later—the waterborne disease that sweeps through the population."
Every few years, villages in Mudimbia, Kenya are destroyed from floodwaters.
Today, more than 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and the United Nations predicts that by 2025, 2/3 of the world's population will face periodic and severe water shortage.
Starting in a Corvallis, Oregon, garage in 1987, Keith Lampi, now executive vice president and chief operating officer for Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI), Robert Salter and some college friends began focusing on how forward osmosis could be used in various humanitarian and industrial applications. In 1988, Lampi and Salter founded HTI in Albany, Oregon, with the purpose of utilizing their engineering and chemistry expertise to pioneer innovative membrane technology research using forward osmosis as a foundation.
When a fire destroyed HTI's Albany facility in 2007, the disruption ironically allowed Lampi and his team a bit of space to work on some of the world's wicked water problems. From those efforts, the HydroPack was born—an emergency hydration solution created specifically for use during the critical first days after a natural disaster.
Victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti received HydroPacks
"Our earliest forward osmosis pouch was a two-liter bag that we had developed for the military. But it required radio frequency welding and was fairly expensive to make," says Dr. Jack Herron, director of product development at HTI. "Our desire was to create a relatively inexpensive pouch for disaster relief. The picture I had in mind was a 10-year-old child in a flood in India. What would he be attracted to and want to drink? What could he use properly without training? I knew from my days as a soccer dad that kids love juice pouches, so that was sort of the model. We also wanted to utilize a heat-seal process to keep the cost down. The HyrdroPack was the result.""We've been fortunate to have a very good relationship with Eastman Chemical over the years, says Keith Lampi. "As we were developing the HydroPack, Eastman worked closely with us to select the best polymers for membrane performance."
An early prototype being pressure tested for weld strength and membrane integrity.
An HTI technician examining die-cuts of an early HydroPack model.
Test cell apparatus used to measure flux rates on an early HydroPack membrane.
An early 2-liter HydroPack, shown halfway through the hydration process.
The original 2-liter HydroPack was hand-made, driving up production costs. This was a major motivation to develop a design more suitable to high-speed production.
"This project started off as Eastman being solely a raw materials supplier first and then became a co-development project," said Jos DeWitt, senior research associate for Eastman specializing in membrane technology. "As we got to know HTI more and understood the importance of the HydroPack for humanity in rendering aid, we got excited. We learned more about the use of our cellulose acetate in the HydroPack and began seeing how to make it more efficient and allow faster rates of re-hydration to make it fully functional for deployment in emergency situations. It's an exciting thing to be working on."
HydroPacks are powered by the seemingly magical filtration technology called Forward Osmosis. This foundational technology is only achieved through HTI's proprietary membrane that is based on a material manufactured by Eastman Chemical Co. called cellulose acetate. Eastman's cellulose esters are versatile bio-based polymers with desirable properties to make membranes—and they inherently like water. "The cellulosics technology is the heart of the membrane," says Jos de Wit. "This is actually allowing Mother Nature's forces to work for you." HTI is able to configure this material in different forms to make a very thin, flat sheet membrane that allows a rejection layer to be added to it. In simple terms, this allows the water to go through the membrane while blocking contaminants.
Hydrating Hydropacks in a ditch in Kenya.
"Forward Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that has been around forever," says Lampi. "It's how a tree draws water from the ground through the root into the leaves and the upper branches. It is how grapes are made into raisins."
The HydroPack is comprised of a membrane pouch containing an osmotic draw agent in the form of a sports drink powder. When the pouch is placed in dirty water, water diffuses across the membrane to mix with the powder. The membrane only allows water to pass, while rejecting even the harshest of contaminants. The resulting clean drink provides much needed calories and electrolytes. What starts as a 4”×6” pouch, transforms over 8–12 hours into a clean, healthy, and nutritional 12-ounce pouch drink—straw included. "It's almost like magic," says Nathan Jones. "It's as old as Earth and yet, it's not something you expect."
Above: Hydropacks in Haiti are hydrating in a pool. Below: A young child drinks nourishments from a Hydropack
In the case of the HydroPack, technology and materials have come together to create a hydration solution that requires no electricity or external power source and can utilize a wide range of water sources. It is essentially non-clogging, unlike other water filtration/purification systems, allowing very turbid water sources to be used. In fact, in independent laboratory tests, HTI filters meet or surpass U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water purifier specification for reductions in bacteria, viruses and cysts.
HTI began development on the HydroPack in 2007, and its first real-world use was during the Haiti earthquake response effort in 2010. True commercial use has really taken off since that time.
A child in Haiti drinks from a Hydropack, 2010.
Today, water is one of the first supplies to be delivered in the aftermath of a disaster, and, in bottled form, may comprise 50% of the weight of relief supplies that are usually airlifted to victims. Although bottled water is thought of to be reliable and safe, it's also costly to transport and often difficult to deliver. The HydroPack, because of its light weight, offers huge logistics savings compared to bottled water. For example, one helicopter filled with HydroPacks equals 15 helicopters of bottled water. This equates to about 7% of the lift requirement compared to bottled water.
"Every time that we haul water around the world for disaster response, it means that we're being 15× less efficient—and 15× more expensive—that we could be with the HydroPack answer," says Dr. Paul K. Carlton, Jr. director of office of innovation and preparedness for the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and former United States' Air Force Surgeon General. "The HydroPack, with no water and a self-contained system that literally is 1/15th of the weight and cube of moving water, becomes the most cost efficient, easiest to use system."
Floods account for more than half of global disasters, affecting more people than any other type of disaster.
In January, 2011, HTI and Eastman worked with the Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO) on a disaster relief demonstration project in Budalangi, an area in western Kenya. Every few years the area is inundated with floodwaters, displacing many of the nearly 65,000 people who live there. "We are continually rebuilding our houses only for the floods to affect us again," says one resident. "We are always starting from scratch."
The project was carried out in the Budalangi village of Mudimbia. Over a 10-day period, 90 Mudimbia households with approximately 400 people participated in the pilot project consuming nearly 27,000 of the 30,000 HydroPacks donated by HTI and Eastman. The purpose of this project was to show how the HydroPack can replace bottled water in the first phase of disaster relief. Here technology and design came together to explore and address the major challenges that communities face in emergency relief situations.
In parallel with the demonstration, Modern Edge, a Portland, Oregon, design firm, conducted in-depth interviews with 11 of the 90 Mudimbia households participating in the project. The design research explored the packaging and graphics of the HydroPack and its use in a disaster-type situation. The idea was to identify little things that can make the HydroPack easy to use regardless of the culture and language of people using it. The goal was to collect baseline data on graphics, symbol and icon recognition, usage data, and HydroPack acceptance from people with minimal exposure to modern branding, packaging and communications. Little things can make a big difference, especially in the packaging of the product.
"What's exciting about working with HTI and Eastman is you've got the business, the technology and the people all brought together into one program," says Austen Angell of Modern Edge, Inc. "So we're able to leverage Eastman technology, the R+D that HTI has done, and measure it against the efficacy in the field and how much it really impacts these people's lives. As a designer, I don't think you can ask for much more of a challenge."
"Austen and his team did an incredible amount of work during those ten days. One important thing we learned was that our icon instructions were very problematic," explains Jones. "For example, a red X over a picture we used to try and say 'don't do this' was interpreted by one group as being a crucifix and was very confusing to them. As a result of Austen's work, we've ended up with simple pictorial instructions of the key steps."
Concept for Modern Edge's Storyboard and After (below).
Concept for Modern Edge's Storyboard and After (below).
In addition to the 11 households in Mudimbi, Angell and his team travelled to the Turkana region of Northern Kenya to conduct ethnographic research and assess the Turkana tribespeople's reaction to the HydroPack.
"We've talked with a lot of elders about how life used to be and how life is today," says Angell. "Everybody of every age agrees that it's changed dramatically and yet the gender roles and what they're responsible for hasn't changed very much at all. Little girls were responsible 50 years ago for carrying water. They're still responsible today."
HTI believes that the Kenya project and their collaboration with Eastman helped them to gain a broad awareness of the capabilities of these products for populations that are in distress. "You can have the most wonderful innovation that will save thousands of lives," says Dr. Paul K. Carlton, Jr. "But if no one uses that application, you haven't saved a single life."
To aid in the adoption of the HydroPack for disaster relief situations, Ready Set Drop has been deployed. It is a digital media campaign co-directed by Design Forum/PDX, Eastman Chemical, HTI and International Relief and Development (IRD). Ready Set Drop hopes to raise $300,000 to acquire and distribute the HydroPack as a global tool for disaster recovery. In the past, HTI has donated HydroPacks to various causes, but the goal of Ready Set Drop is to raise a pre-positioned stockpile of 1 million HydroPacks or more to provide, at no cost, to NGOs when disaster strikes. IRD, is the main implementation partner at this time, but they will also rely on local partners who may be best situated to provide timely outreach during a given emergency.
As funds accrue to purchase a pallet of HydroPacks (approximately 14,000), the pallet will be immediately transferred to IRD's warehouse in Ethiopia. "HTI will be donating the first pallet to be shipped over," says Nathan Jones. These HydroPacks can be deployed to Africa, Asia and even Europe in the event of an emergency that warrants the response. When that stockpile is sufficient, any additional HydroPacks will be stored in a region yet to be determined. Once the HydroPacks are transferred to IRD, they "own" the HydroPacks, and will decide when and where they are used. The HydroPacks are not a long term solution and are not appropriate in every situation. IRD has the experience and expertise to determine when it is best to use them.
Because the HydroPacks' purpose is to provide a safe means of hydration during the immediate aftermath of a disaster, it is critical that the stockpile be in place prior to the emergency. "This is beyond HTI's capacity to go it alone. We would quickly be out of business," says Nathan Jones. "Instead, our dream is to create a community of individuals and corporations that can support the program in small and large ways to make this a reality." This is much more than an effort to raise money. HTI is seeking logistics and implementation partners to ensure a seamless effort during the earliest phases of disaster response.
This partnership is an example of how a successful collaboration between designers and manufacturers leads to an important social cause and solution. This joint effort represents a primary interest in community well-being and a result that offers simplicity and healthy recovery in a time of confusion and disruption.
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Help us get this application adopted by supporting the Ready Set Drop at www.readysetdrop.com.
Together we can help provide hydration to a world in need.