LifeStraw Family to produce clean water and reduce carbon emissions


May 27, 2011

The LifeStraw Family water filter is being introduced in Kenya, where it should provide clean drinking water for over 4.5 million people(Photo: Vestergaard Frandsen)

The LifeStraw Family water filter is being introduced in Kenya, where it should provide clean drinking water for over 4.5 million people
(Photo: Vestergaard Frandsen)

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Given that approximately one sixth of the world's population lacks access to safe drinking water, it would obviously be a very good idea to create something that allows those people to easily and cheaply filter their local tainted water. That was the thinking behind the LifeStraw. Developed by European disease control firm Vestergaard Frandsen, the simple device allows individual users to drink directly out of unclean water bodies, without ingesting pathogens or other pollutants. Now, the larger-scale LifeStraw Family is being introduced in Kenya, where it could potentially save millions of lives, reduce air pollution, and pay for itself in the process.

The technology

The LifeStraw Family is kept in the home and hung on a wall, where tainted water is transported to it. Each unit is capable of filtering up to 18,000 liters (4,755 U.S. gallons) of water, which is said to be enough to meet the needs of a family of five, for up to three years. The device is claimed to filter out at least 99.999 percent of bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and parasites.

Originally, the first-generation LifeStraw used a special resin to kill water-borne bacteria on contact, while activated carbon captured organisms such as parasites. Now, both it and the LifeStraw Family instead utilize hollow fiber technology.

The filtration process starts with users emptying untreated water into the device's feed bucket, where a prefilter traps particles larger than 80 microns. From there, the water proceeds down a plastic hose to the purification cartridge. There, a hollow fiber ultrafiltration membrane stops all microbes and fine dirt particles - the fibers' tiny pores won't allow anything larger than 20 nanometers to pass through. What ultimately comes out of the cartridge's tap is clean, clear, potable water.

The "dirty side" of the membrane can be periodically cleaned via a built-in back-flushing system, although small amounts of chlorine are also added as the water leaves the feed bucket, to help reduce biofouling.

The program

As part of its ongoing Carbon for Water program, Vestergaard Frandsen is in the process of supplying 90 percent of the homes in Western Province, Kenya, with 900,000 of the filters, along with training in how to use them. The program should allow approximately 4.5 million Kenyans access to drinking water that meets EPA standards, for the first time.

Traditionally, people in the region have set about purifying their water by boiling it. Heating that water requires fire, fire produces smoke, and smoke is a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Because the LifeStraw Family reduces the need for those fires, Vestergaard Frandsen is able to claim one carbon credit for each metric ton of CO2 that is kept out of the atmosphere. The company can then sell those credits on the open market, mostly to corporations that wish to meet their Kyoto Protocol obligations by supporting non-polluting technology, instead of reducing their own emissions.

In this way, the program should hopefully pay for itself, and then some. Vestergaard Frandsen has invested approximately US$30 million in the project, but it expects to offset over 2.4 million tons of CO2 per year - carbon credits sell for about US$6 to $12 each. A database of families using the devices, which includes photos, phone numbers and GPS coordinates, will be utilized for auditing purposes.

Eliminating the need for water-boiling fires also lessens the amount of harmful smoke that users inhale, along with the amount of time and effort needed to gather wood, plus it slows the deforestation process.

The implementation phase of Carbon for Water is just wrapping up, having taken place over the past two months. All of the LifeStraw Family recipients are getting their devices free of charge, and will receive free repairs or replacements at one of 31 service centers that have been established in the region.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Offsetting fires and CO2 ? Gee, humans only emit 3% of all the CO2 produced on this planet every year. And a life of 3 years ? not likely, have you been there and seen the sediment greater and smaller than 1 micron ? I have It will get blocked in about 1 week. Better off with a solar distiller... The hot water is needed to wash dirty laundry dishes and bodies. An old habit hard to break.

Erwin Lapschies

A great product with a terrible business model.

There is no need for the LifeStraw in the West because we build infrastructure instead of stashing money into a dictator\'s Swiss bank account. Third World countries have some of the richest natural resources and productivity, and can certainly afford municipal water systems like everybody else.

Unless, that is, the West\'s free aid, money and medical assistance keeps a dictator from having to worry about providing even basic services. Relieved of this responsibility, dictators can continue to let millions die while they cash in. Our most generous people will clean up the mess for them.

For the last 50 years I\'ve watched the Third World get worse - not better - because we basically support their entire societies while rulers can go shopping in Geneva.

Todd Dunning

Friends did you see this ?

I think that is great, because I think some countries in Africa are starting to live in a good way and they don´t have to act as the whole world acted until now, the true sustainable development is growing there.

I am working on a bike trailer project with some students for the kenyans, they thank every effort in putting a new idea into test.

Juliano Pappalardo

Well said Todd. Without proper water and sewage systems people continue to die. Indoor plumbing connected to a proper system does more than all the doctors in the world. When these systems were first introduced in the USA there was a saying. \"Plumbers protecting the health of the Nation.\"


Erwin, whose oilcan did you get your facts from? Government studies show a slightly different percentage.

In the following calculations, we will express atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in units of parts per million by volume (ppmv). Each ppmv represents 2.13 X1015 grams, or 2.13 petagrams of carbon (PgC) in the atmosphere. According to Houghton and Hackler, land-use changes from 1850-2000 resulted in a net transfer of 154 PgC to the atmosphere. During that same period, 282 PgC were released by combustion of fossil fuels, and 5.5 additional PgC were released to the atmosphere from cement manufacture. This adds up to 154 282 5.5 = 441.5 PgC, of which 282/444.1 = 64% is due to fossil-fuel combustion.

Paul Smith

Todd, all very good points, but the problem in Africa (yes, large generalization) is that people don\'t all live in cities, not even predominantly, and getting utility lines out to everyone who needs them is hardly cost-effective.

The best system I\'ve seen for filtering any water into potable water is the slow sand filter because of the absolute minimal maintenance. It has similar capabilities for removing bacteria and viruses as this LifeStraw system, and is very simple to make from local materials.

And Larinator, the best way to get rid of sewage in a rural area is a composting toilet. Basically dig a hole in the ground and place a concrete plate on top with a small hole for people to squat over. When it fills up within a few feet of the surface, cap it with dirt and let it sit for six months so any harmful bacteria can die or be eaten by soil organisms and made into useful humus. Plant a food-bearing tree on top of this hole and you\'re guaranteed a healthy and productive tree. Closed cycles...that\'s what makes things work, not just putting the waste \"somewhere else.\"


Todd: Great observation! Poverty is man made or should I say government made? But the people continue to support centralized control so they are creating their own hell. An international study done by Food First showed the more U.S. foreign aid given, the more draconian the gov. Aid buys guns and bullets for the gov troops. Aid goes to governments, not the people. No gov will allow it any other way. They would not have aid than allow it to go directly to the people. Why? They want control first and foremost. Technology will not solve poverty if gov is not eliminated first. Famines and war are also gov made.

The most beneficial technologies in the 3rd world are solar ovens and stills, biolite stoves, and compost toilets. These alone could save millions of lives a year for pennies.


I believe the concept of eliminating the need for fires is pretty far fetched. The fire is not created for a sole purpose. They still eat, commune, and celebrate around fires.


Good. But SOLAR DISINFECTION OF WATER which utilises solar Thermal and UV present in the SUN is the cost effective method which can be adopted in developing countries.

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