It's a battleground waiting to happen in the developing world and even here in the United States; call it the War Over Water.
Around the world, some 780 million people are faced with the lack of access to potable water and about 3.4 million people die each year from drinking unsanitary supplies.
Life depends on water and almost 70 percent of a human being's body weight is comprised of water. Without it, life can continue for a very few days and, depending on environmental factors, might last just a few hours. To function at optimum levels, the body needs somewhere between a quart and a 1.8 gallons of water every day. A lack of adequate amounts of water causes dehydration which leads to headaches, fatigue and loss of mental acuity. Prolonged dehydration will damage the kidneys.
While there are major firms working on solutions to the problem, the real fulcrum needed to resolve the shortages might come in the form of more humble, financially accessible grassroots efforts.
Make Fresh Water is one such project engaged in taking on the problem by offering a simple, 3D printable fresh water distiller consisting of just three parts: a body, a hopper and a containment cap.
It works by using dirty water as a starting point. The body of the device heats using solar energy, and once the temperature of the cone generates temps of 85°C inside the funnel, the water begins to vaporize. As the water turns into steam, it gathers along the walls of the funnel. The shape of the funnel is used to channel condensed water into a collecting pool.
Cem Schnitzler started the project in the hope that those with access to printers around the world would take his Water Maker and distribute it to people without access to clean water. Schnitzler shares his CAD files in various formats on Thingiverse via a GNU License, and via dropbox.
Unfold Design Studio in Antwerp, Belgium, took a slightly different tack to take on the problem by creating a ceramic water filter. The open source design was built around the idea that such filters could be 3D printed on site where they're needed most. They say the water filter is a prototype and "part of an ongoing research project on the potential benefits of ceramic 3D printing for the production of water filters in the developing world."
Taking an existing design for a water boiler from Open Structures as their starting point, Unfold took the highly adaptable boiler (which comes with instructions on how they could be mass-produced) and added a cut glass bottle to hold a ceramic water filter which is 3D printed.
They say the filter was made to demonstrate the potential benefits of ceramic 3D printing.
Once contaminated water is introduced to one side of a ceramic filter, the structure of the ceramic material blocks the passage of anything larger than the pore size. Effective for removing bacteria and protozoa, such filters may not be effective against viruses as they're small enough to pass through, but when treated correctly with silver, that combination can incapacitate bacteria and prevent the growth of mold and algae in the filter.
Ceramic filtration is ineffective in removing most chemical contaminants, but pot type filters are very inexpensive to make and can be easily cleaned for reuse.