From The Editor | November 16, 2012

Whiskey Fix: A Surprising Water Treatment Solution


By Kevin Westerling

Kevin Westerling

“To alcohol! The cause of — and solution to — all of life’s problems.”
– Homer Simpson

Chalk one up in the “solution” column for alcohol. A new water treatment technique, borne out of the whiskey distillation process, has the potential to save millions of lives by making dirty water potable.

The invention is called DRAM, or device for the remediation and attenuation of multiple pollutants, which I discovered via REVMODO. DRAM simultaneously removes inorganic and organic contaminants — to levels of 95% and greater — by binding them to compressed barley husks, which are a byproduct of whiskey production. It was developed by a pair of Scottish scientists at the University of Aberdeen, so it’s not at all coincidental that “dram” is also an old Scottish term for a pour of whiskey.

According to EPONA Technologies, the company founded by the inventors to commercialize the system, DRAM cleans wastewater, groundwater, and surface water, and features various “modes of actions depending upon the nature of the pollutant.” Put more plainly, it is highly adaptable to different contaminant types — dissolved metals, chlorinated solvents, fuel oils, and pesticides, to name a few. EPONA recognizes groundwater cleanup, specifically, as a major market, estimating it to be worth over £500 million (US$793M) per year in the UK alone.

Whatever the environment, DRAM requires no additional infrastructure — or even electricity — to set up and operate. The module is simply inserted into a pre-existing pumped stream or into a gravity-fed system. Each unit treats 1,000 liters (about 264 gallons) of water per hour, but can be scaled up for higher flow rates.

One region anxious to benefit from DRAM is Golaidanga, Bangladesh, the site of a charity effort by Purifaid beginning in December. The system will be used to remove arsenic from the village’s drinking water, and is ideally suited for the poor, remote location due to its modularity, low cost, and easy setup.

DRAM is also environmentally friendly in that it requires no chemicals — just naturally grown (whiskey distilled) barley husks, also known as “draff.” EPONA handles removal and replacement of the spent draff, which is then transported to waste-to-energy plants.

To learn more about the technology, watch this video. You can also help the cause by drinking a dram of your own, as the Scots would say.

Or as Homer would say, “Mmm… whiskey.”