Coke & Kamen: They’d Like To Give The World Some Water

To Dean Kamen, the college drop-out, entrepreneur, inventor, and designer/manufacturer of the Segway, nothing beats sunlight distillation for creating pure water from not-so-pure water.

In Kamen’s eyes, distillation was magical in its simplicity.  “The sun will evaporate the water out of an open latrine, and it will leave behind all of the bioburden, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia,” he says.  “It will even separate the water from the arsenic and hexavalent chromium in a chemical waste site.”

So, to lick a problem related to one of his medical inventions, he set about to use distillation as the basis for a small, compact, efficient mechanism for making pure water.

As the plan for his water purifier took shape, Kamen found himself thinking a lot about disaster relief.  Whenever an earthquake or tsunami struck, aid organizations would request clean water before anything else because local supplies were tainted with sewage or chemicals.  Kamen thought, “I’ve been trying to make a box small enough that you could carry it around for mobile dialysis, and it makes 250 gallons a day—that would be enough for a hundred people in a crisis.”  More to the point, why not use the machine to help entire villages, or even nations, with persistent water needs?

“There are nearly a billion people in the world that get up every morning and their primary goal is to find water,” Kamen says.  “Many travel great distances to find water that won’t kill them.  And sadly, hundreds of thousands of times a year it does kill, mostly kids.”  With Kamen’s purifier, people could just stick a hose in their dirty laundry water, a polluted river, or even their own toilet pit, and crystal-clear, microbe-free water would stream out of the machine.

But the catch to scaling the production up was to find an organization with the right infrastructure.  That’s when Kamen thought of Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola Company.

“You talk to people that travel a lot and they say, ‘If there’s one thing you can buy anywhere in the world, it’s a Coke.’  You know the joke: A guy takes three weeks climbing to the top of Mount Everest; he gets to the top and buys himself a Coke.  So I thought, Coke is something you drink, and they have coolers that are about the size of our machine, and they have bottling partnerships around the world.  I’m going to go and try to convince them to do this.”

And he did.  The result was the Ekocenter, and you can read Tom Foster’s fascinating account of it’s development at the Popular Science website, HERE.