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Transforming the Global Water Crisis into Economic Opportunity


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Transforming the Global Water Crisis into Economic Opportunity


Drinkwell is poised to revolutionize the global water industry by transforming the world's water crisis into economic opportunity by using a micro-franchise model to establish local water businesses in arsenic-affected areas. By providing affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, Drinkwell taps into the entrepreneurial spirit within these communities to create jobs, generate income, and improve health outcomes. Building off of 200 profitable deployments across India, Laos, and Cambodia through local partners, Drinkwell Systems deliver 60x more water, is 17x more energy efficient, and reduces waste by 7 orders of magnitude compared to Reverse Osmosis, the current best practice. Drinkwell aims to save the 200 million people from drinking arsenic and fluoride-contaminated water from death by giving them a healthier, profitable future.

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The Crisis


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The Crisis


The largest mass poisoning in human history

The World Health Organization reports that the arsenic water crisis, affecting over 200 million people across 70 countries, is the largest mass poisoning in human history (World Health Organization, 2000). Despite millions of dollars being spent, over 48 million people in India and Bangladesh alone are affected by widespread arsenic poisoning due to drinking water drawn from underground sources containing arsenic at concentrations well above the permissible limit of 50 mg/L. In Bangladesh, one in every five deaths occurs due to arsenic-contaminated water (The Lancet, 2010).

Since the 1970s, tens of millions of people in West Bengal and Bangladesh have been at risk of an early death from groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic.

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In Bangladesh alone, 90 % of the nation’s population uses groundwater as their primary source of fresh water, and there are over 77 million villagers in rural Bangladesh whose only water source is contaminated by the toxin. As the population has grown throughout the decades, the problem has gotten worse, and attempts to mitigate the disaster have been unsuccessful.

According to the World Bank, the arsenic crisis, stunts intellectual development, creates gender inequalities, and has already cost the Bangladesh economy US$22.89 Billion in lost GDP due to its debilitating health effects. 

Arsenic is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring metal that is found in dangerously high amounts within the groundwater of South Asia. Long-term exposure to such high levels of arsenic can lead to arsenicosis, an incurable cancer-causing disease.

 

 

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The Solution


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The Solution


Overview

  • Despite billions of dollars being spent, 780 million people still lack access to clean, potable drinking water. According to the UN, 50% of all water projects fail because communities have not or cannot assume responsibility for maintenance and repairs of water systems. Drinkwell leverages the profit incentive to sustain community involvement from project inception through maintenance and upkeep by using our "Select, Build, Sell, Collect" approach. We operate a network of entrepreneurs that generate an income by selling clean drinking water that can improve the health, wealth, and productivity of the world's poorest populations. 
  • Drinkwell transforms existing arsenic-affected tubewells, which are a source of stigma and hardship, into local profitable water enterprises. These enterprises deliver clean water by employing local villagers and build local markets that catalyze economic opportunity, ultimately allowing villagers to realize their full potential.

Benefits

  • The easy-to-operate system provides safe drinking water through use of a resin-based regenerable adsorbent that can be started or stopped with no real time lag. Whereas current solutions use Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology that wastes 40-60% of input water, DrinkWell wastes only 1% of water.
  • Improved health outcomes due to access to clean water (households no longer at risk for cholera, diarrhea, arsenicosis, and other water-borne diseases).
  • Productivity and economic gains through time savings (women particularly spend 2-5 hours a day procuring water on a daily basis, valuable time that could be spent in school or engaging in income-generating activities).

 

A Micro-entrepreneur Business Model to reach Scale

Despite billions of dollars being spent, 780 million people still lack access to clean, potable drinking water. According to the UN Joint Monitoring Programme on Water and Sanitation, 50% of all water projects fail because communities have not or cannot assume responsibility for maintenance and repairs of water systems. Drinkwell leverages the profit incentive to sustain community involvement from project inception through maintenance and upkeep by using our "Select, Build, Sell, Collect" approach. We operate a network of entrepreneurs that generate an income by selling clean drinking water that can improve the health, wealth, and productivity of the world's poorest populations. 

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Waste Management

Drinkwell takes waste management very seriously, as the team has personally seen the adverse effects of improper waste management in current solutions that allow for arsenic to leach back into the soil, thereby repolluting the environment. Our system has an EPA-validated waste management process:

  1. Once our filter media is exhausted, the adsorbent material is regenerated (unlike most filters, whose media is simply discarded) through a simple process at a central location. This decreases the waste volume by “cleaning” the adsorbents of collected arsenic and catching the leftover arsenic-sludge in the filter, resulting in waste of only 1%.  The waste material is put into a  well-aerated, coarse sand filters for safe storage.
  2. The cleaned adsorbent material is then returned to the water unit, filtering water as if the unit were new.

This disposal technique, developed and validated under rural conditions, is scientifically more appropriate than dumping arsenic-loaded adsorbents into landfills, which is the typical practice in developed nations.

A diagram of our media flow can be viewed here

Testimonial

“Through this arsenic mitigation technology, we have been able to transform the health crisis into a revenue generating business while drinking safe water.”

- Sakti Sadhana Club Member (Ashoknagar, West Bengal, India)

 

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Technology Milestones


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Technology Milestones


Drinkwell uses award-winning technology developed by Dr. Arup SenGupta of Lehigh University. The technology has seen 200 successful deployments across Laos, Cambodia, and West Bengal (India) through an investment of over $1 million by public, private, and non-profit organizations:

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Our Story


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Our Story


Brief History

Over the past decade, the SenGupta Research Lab of Lehigh University has partnered with Bengal Engineering and Science University in Bengal, India, and Water for People in Denver, Colorado to install 200 community-based wellhead arsenic removal units in remote villages in West Bengal, India.  These systems supply nearly 200,000 villagers with arsenic-safe water. Each village manages the system through a local community-based committee and have been running successfully for several years.

In 2008, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation was formed to introduce the technology using an innovative school-based business model. The work revealed the enormous potential for scaling a micro-franchise model that spurs entrepreneurship at the individual level, clean water access at the household level, and economic growth and global health improvement at the community level. 

Throughout this process, the technology has won countless awards (for a full list of honors and awards please visit the Technology Milestones page).

Drinkwell was established in May 2013 as a part of WIST, Inc., to capitalize on the lessons learned of the over 200 implementations and take advantage of the enormous market opportunity of providing clean drinking water to rural and peri-urban communities that lack access to affordable sources of clean drinking water.

 

Team

Drinkwell is born from over 30+ years of collective on-the-ground experience in the arsenic water space in India and Bangladesh.

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Dr. Arup K. SenGupta has been a Chemical Engineering Professor at Lehigh University for over 25 years. He is an expert on groundwater remediation, and under his non-profit, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, he has led the installation of 200+ community-operated arsenic treatment systems in Southeast Asia that now provide safe water to over 200,000 people. He was a 2011 Fulbright Scholar in India and holds the patent for Drinkwell's nanotechnology.

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Minhaj Chowdhury has 5 years of experience implementing arsenic projects with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (“BRAC”), the largest NGO in the world, and Johns Hopkins University. As a Fulbright Scholar in Bangladesh, he researched villager willingness to pay for clean water. His work has been acclaimed by UNICEF, WaterAid Bangladesh, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Health Secretary, and serves as the basis for Drinkwell's growth strategy. Minhaj has a degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins.

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Mike German is a 2013 Fulbright Scholar in India, conducting research on social business models. He is applying technology and infrastructure lessons learned from the non-profit operations of the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation to Drinkwell's growth strategy. Currently pursuing his PhD in Environmental Engineering under Professor SenGupta, Mike has helped develop the resin technology within the SenGupta Research Lab.

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