The Necessity of Ashok Gadgil: UV Waterworks and Practical Innovation


 “It’s like you find a puzzle, but the nice thing about this puzzle is that if you solve it you’re making people’s lives better.” – Ashok Gadgil

UV Waterworks

Unsafe drinking water is the leading cause of cholera

Source: “Life saving – drinking water,” Julien Harneis, Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

Ashok Gadgil first began thinking about UV Waterworks in response to a cholera outbreak in India in the early 1990s. The question of how to handle such an outbreak was actually common knowledge. There were three known methods to disinfect water – through boiling, chlorination or by UV light exposure (UV light stunts the DNA of viruses and bacteria and prevents them from reproducing, therefore rendering them harmless). UV light was potentially the cheapest means. However, the UV lights used in labs around the world at the time were large and cumbersome, and so the puzzle presented itself as a matter of shrinking the UV light source to a practical size, as well as making the power required to run the device minimal and portable. At the time all UV purifiers needed pressurized water to work, which was expensive. Gadgil realized that the device would have to use water carried by hand, or drawn by hand-pumps. Moreover, the device would have to be small, rugged and cheap if it was to fit in with the socio-economic environment in India and other countries in the developing world, where it would be used.

The Too-Effective Prototype and Creating UV Waterworks

Cholera prevention and awareness

Cholera prevention and awareness campaign

Source: “cholera prevention sign board,” SuSanA Secretariat, Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

A prototype was created, and it proved to be too large and too expensive, as well as, ironically – too effective; much more than the needed requirement of water was being purified and produced. Further experimentation yielded UV Waterworks, as it is known today.

It is a compact device 70cm x 38cm x 28cm, and weighs only 7 kg. It purifies water at a rate of 15 litres/minute and destroys almost 100% of pathogens – even in the most polluted water. The cost? Only 4 cents/ton. Maintenance is minimal, in that the water pan inside the device needs to be cleaned every 3 or 4 months, and the UV lamp – only once a year.

To be fully integrated into the community the device must use very little power. Keeping this in mind, Gadgil has made UV Waterworks operable on relatively small sources – a car battery, a bicycle generator, wind power, or solar cells. UV Waterworks has gained wide-spread use since its inception, and has received two awards: Discover Magazine‘s 1996 Award for Technological Innovation (Environmental Category), and Popular Science Magazine‘s “Best of What’s New” 1996 Award.

The Berkeley-Darfur Stove: Practical Solutions for Troubled Regions

Traditional cooking stoves used in rural Africa.

Traditional cooking stoves used in rural Africa

Source: “Cooking stoves, Tigray,” Rod Waddington, Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

Other Gadgil inventions exist besides UV Waterworks, but the Berkley-Darfur stove is worth a brief look. Built using the sound principles of stoves made through history and by optimizing those components determined to be most effective, the completed device looks like a basic metal stove; however, it is 55% more fuel- efficient than the previous stoves used in the Darfur region.

Darfurians refugees in Eastern Chad

Darfurian refugees gathering firewood in Eastern Chad

Source: “Darfurian refugees in Eastern Chad,”European Commission DG ECHO Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

An unexpected side effect occurred as a result of using the stove – the village women using the stoves used to have to trek to outlying regions to gather wood for their stoves. Along the way, the women would often be attacked and assaulted by marauding tribes. The fuel efficiency of the Berkeley-Darfur stove practically cut in half the amount of wood-collection required, so the village women would spend less time in the dangerous regions on the outskirts of their communities, and out of harm’s way (it seems like the good that comes from even the most thoroughly engineered devices, can occur sometimes serendipitously.)

Like UV Waterworks, the Berkeley-Darfur stove has worked successfully in the region and is used widely today.

Cover Image: “Innovation“, Boegh, Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

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About: Robert Inglis

I’m new to this fascinating blog, hoping to add something to the mix, so to speak. I have a background in Media Studies from Queen’s University, and I’ve work experience involving various popular communications media, e.g. videography, website design, graphic design, writing (fiction, non-fiction, commercial), editing and business communications. I’d like to bring to light some of the new innovations going on in the world today in these technologies and others. Glad to be aboard!

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