ARLINGTON, Va. -- A new easy-to-carry water purifier that could give Marines and first-responders access to clean water wherever they go successfully completed its first operational test, officials announced Jul 22. Funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and tested this spring during the U.S.-Philippines joint Balikatan military exercise, the First-Response Water Purifier is designed for long-term use in remote areas during emergency and disaster relief operations. The new purifier was developed to help reduce enormous logistical burdens already faced by forward-deployed personnel. There are two versions-one that can treat 1,000 gallons per day and one that can handle 5,000 gallons per day. "Expeditionary water involves much more than just purification," said Cody Reese, logistics manager for ONR's Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department. "It has a long logistics tail, it is difficult to supply and yet it is one of the most critical basic needs in any type of operation, anywhere in the world." The appetite for a trusted source of drinking water has led to a costly habit of buying and transporting bottled water around the battlefield. Likewise, current purification systems are so heavy they have to be transported on Humvees and 7-ton trucks.
The new purifier is light and compact enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck and be carried by just two Marines. Through ultrafiltration membranes and chlorine addition, the prototypes can make safe water from all freshwater sources, including surface waters with large amounts of algae and cloudiness caused by sediment. "Providing clean water anywhere in the field environment is a tremendously complex proposition that involves a lot of equipment and energy-you have to locate it, analyze it, collect it, treat it, monitor it, store it, transport it, distribute it, drink it and then do something with the waste," Reese said. "Anything we can do to shrink the footprint, reduce energy consumption and extend system life is a big win, with cascading effects throughout the entire supply chain." Developed through a collaboration of Pacific Research Group and humanitarian organization Global Water, the new purifier is easy to operate and requires less maintenance and power than current systems, which can require repeated resupply of parts, trained operators and major power sources-all unavailable during typical disaster-relief scenarios. Aside from chlorine needed to provide disinfection and safe storage, the prototypes required no logistic support during the recent field exercise. Events like the Balikatan exercise are great learning tools for developers, as equipment is challenged in ways that can't be simulated in the United States. The water source used for this test came from a contaminated shallow river filled with volcanic ash from the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
The fine particles in the ash provided a unique challenge to intake structures and filters, but the First-Response Water Purification prototypes-designed to be forgiving with cleanable filters-operated flawlessly throughout the exercise. Pacific Research Group and Global Water continue to design and test water-treatment technologies that complement the purifiers brought to Balikatan this year. The groups plan to bring to next year's exercise two new prototypes that include an optional reverse osmosis capability for brackish, or salty, water that would accommodate the vast majority of surface water sources anywhere in the world. ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.