By Liz Stevens, writer, UV Solutions
Professor Hadas Mamane, head of the Environmental Engineering Program and the Water-Energy (WE) lab at Tel Aviv University, Israel, along with Ph.D. candidate Dana Pousty at the university, were recipients of the IUVA 2021 RadLaunch Award for SoLED, a UV-LED water disinfection device.
Mamane and Pousty share a vision to prevent mortality and improve the health of billions of people in developing countries, where access to safe drinking water is limited and leads to disease, poor nutrition and a daily death rate of over 800 children under five years of age. The challenges to delivering safe drinking water to these mostly rural areas include a lack of infrastructure and resources to support continuous water treatment – nonexistent or inadequate piping systems, intermittent or no electricity at all, a fragmented supply chain and the necessity of relying on unskilled personnel for water system maintenance.
“These are the main barriers for implementing the typical solutions in high-income countries,” explained Pousty. “Also, while the traditional solutions of boiling, chlorination and filtering do address some water quality issues, these methods are not adequate for eliminating the waterborne viruses that are one of the main causes of mortality and illness.”
Mamane and Pousty are co-founders of SoLED, the company behind the device, a solar-powered water disinfection device designed for infrastructure-limited areas. “We are making safe water accessible everywhere around the globe,” said Pousty. “Imagine a small device that everyone can connect to every water source. Actually, it is not necessary to imagine it. It is a reality.”
SoLED features a super-efficient UV-LED reactor based on a patented technology to provide maximum disinfection effect with minimum costs in a solar-powered or off grid solution. The reactor can be integrated into existing water filtration systems to provide virus treatment with minimal maintenance costs or can function as a standalone product integrated into any pipe. The patented technology enables the combination of multiple frequencies and other design features to dramatically reduce upfront costs and energy consumption while enhancing microbial inactivation.
The SoLED UV-LED technology was developed during five years of research and lab testing. “We used multi-spectral wavelengths,” said Pousty, “and proved that we could achieve maximum disinfection and inhibit regrowth with minimal lamp cost and low energy consumption as compared to using a single wavelength.” SoLED’s technology design requires lower energy consumption, and the system can fit even challenging situations, such as gravity-fed water.
The group was surprised to learn that boiling, the most typical water treatment technology in low-income countries, results in high carbon emissions and, in many cases, the boiling time is not sufficient for effective water disinfection. Thus, alternatives to boiling can result in more effective and sustainable treatment. The group believes that off-grid, low-energy UV-LED solutions can be an alternative to water boiling.
The group’s water treatment technology is small and portable. SoLED connects to any standard pipe through an easy plug-and-play connector, which can be adjusted for the size of the pipe. Integration with a filtration system would be done through a pipe connector as well. The system is designed to be low maintenance and very efficient. “Two devices can cover the daily water consumption needs of an average village of 1,600 people,” said Pousty.
The SoLED creators estimate that the market for this type of decentralized disinfection product includes $17.3B globally, $9.8B in developing countries and $1.9B in India alone. The group’s business model calls for bulk sales of village/home water disinfection kits that may include a solar panel and the UV-LED component – devices that potentially could be offered to foundations such as USAID (the US Agency for International Development, which helps partner countries plan, finance and deliver safe, sustainable water and sanitation services for the neediest) and regional authorities, private water systems and large-scale water providers.
SoLED Company, which also includes experienced business professionals Itai Arad, CEO, and Meir Morgenstern, serial entrepreneur and mentor, has partnered with several organizations for pilots and technology partnerships. Its partnerships with IsraAID (an independent NGO and the largest humanitarian aid organization in Israel) and the environmental and academic institution Arava Institute will allow for field pilot tests. A partnership with Israel Innovation Authority (the support arm of the Israeli government, charged with fostering the development of industrial R&D within the State of Israel) provided the group’s initial research funds.