Taking On Water: Renowned Inventor Teams With Coke On Purification Technology
By Kevin Westerling, Editor
Remember when the Segway was supposed to revolutionize the world as we know it, when technology luminaries such as John Doerr and Steve Jobs reportedly said it would be bigger than both the PC and the Internet? Well, that didn’t quite happen, but Segway inventor Dean Kamen is rolling out another device that could very well have global impact — the Slingshot water purification system.
The project is backed by none other than the world’s largest soft drink provider, Coca-Cola, which will work with Kamen’s DEKA R&D organization to place thousands of Slingshots in needy, water-scarce areas within a few years. While the venture has “huge societal implications,” as Coke Chief Executive Muhtar Kent told Reuters, I was particularly intrigued by the technology at play.
The Slingshot boasts a small footprint — about the size of a compact refrigerator — and is capable of creating drinking water using any source, “from ocean water to raw sewage,” according to Kamen. To prove the point, he once went so far as to drink his own urine after running it through the Slingshot as part of a demonstration.
The upshot to the Slingshot is that it can produce 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of water/day — enough daily drinking water for about 300 people — through vapor compression distillation, which essentially boils and evaporates the water source with compressed hot air. By utilizing hot air exchange — precipitated (if you will) by a Stirling engine — the process runs off virtually any fuel source, using less power than a hair dryer.
The utilization of power sources such as the sun, wind, and even cow dung is particularly important because they are readily available in the rural regions where the Slingshot will soon be deployed — in South Africa, Mexico, and Paraguay for starters, followed by India, the Middle East, and Asia.
A nod goes to Coke as well, for investing millions in the Slingshot project (each unit costs around $2,000) as part its “2020 Vision” to become water neutral, giving back in equal measure all the water used to make its product. Huge corporate entities, especially ones that make sugary drinks in an increasingly health-conscious society, are more often derided than praised. However, I’m sure the new beneficiaries of clean water — those otherwise at constant risk for sickness and death — are quite glad Coke is around.
Dean Kamen is probably happy too… he’s been trying to get the Slingshot off the ground for 10 years.