Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Evaluation Criteria- measuring success

When we started brainstorming solutions, we realized we couldn't just pick our favorites or the ones that seemed easiest to implement. Based on the original project proposal from Sarvajal, research and our understanding of sustainability as not only environmentally responsible but appropriate for the site, culture, economy and materials available to us, we developed a set of Evaluation Criteria that can be used to measure the potential value of a particular solution. These are factors that we plan to consider not only in brainstorming ideas, but in evaluating the results of our research in-country. By applying the same criteria to multiple solutions we will be able to compare them side-by-side and make well thought out recommendations to our client.

Piramal Pilot Evaluation Criteria:

1) Practical Considerations
Scalability- Taking into account the variability of franchisee locations, surroundings and availability of land and local resources, where might this solution be appropriate (urban versus rural) and could it easily be scaled to multiple locations?
Viability- What is the expected life-span of the solution? Can it be reasonably constructed, implemented and maintained by entrepreneurs? What materials are needed and are they available locally? And what are the long term implications for the triple bottom line.
Short-term feasibility- Will the Master’s Project team be able to implement pilot solutions and collect useful data within the project timeline and budget?
Suitability- Does it sufficiently address the problem? And how does it compare to “business as usual?”

2) Economic Considerations
Cost effectiveness- What are the long- and short-term costs associated with this solution (both capital and maintenance costs)? Conduct a cost/benefit analysis.
Added economic value- Is there potential for an additional business opportunity, either as an extension of the entrepreneurs current work or in partnership with other local entrepreneurs (job creation)?

3) Social Considerations
Community value- Does the proposed solution build a sense of community or pride for local residents? Does it add value to franchisee locations as a gathering place to strengthen ties and communication within a community?
Cultural sensitivity- Does the solution account for the local and cultural context? And is it culturally feasible for entrepreneurs and community members to engage with and be accepting of the idea?

4) Environmental Considerations
Does the solution not only prevent environmental degradation but seek to improve the environmental quality of the region and watershed? What are the short- and long-term impacts on water, land and air quality in both local and global contexts? What is materials footprint of supplies needed to implement and maintain this solution?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reverse Osmosis: A Primer

Our client, Sarvajal, uses reverse osmosis technology to treat groundwater to drinking water quality. In order to better understand our project and the challenges it presents, here is a primer on the technology and some context for its application to drinking water treatment.

Reverse osmosis, also known as RO, gets its name from the basic concept of osmosis (i.e. diffusion). Whereas conventional osmosis concerns the movement of water from lower to higher solute concentrations, RO works in the opposite direction by using external pressure to pump water across a selectively-permeable membrane. The membrane acts like a filter, leaving large particles and ions behind and allowing the water to pass through. The final product of this process is thus two-fold: a purified water stream that can be used for drinking water (called the product water or permeate), and a highly-concentrated waste stream that can be routed for disposal (the brine).

Brine water is highly concentrated and presents both the challenge of disposal and the opportunity of reuse. The brine water we are working with has high concentrations of total dissolved solids, including sodium, bicarbonate, and chloride ions. This water is not necessarily unsafe for handling, but is far too concentrated to use in most applications. Finding options for reuse thus requires a great deal of creativity, and our goal is to develop a basket of options to provide flexibility to different franchise locations. Presently, the majority of Sarvajal franchisees use ground application to recharge the water (and dissolved solids) to the groundwater table. In our development and assessment of reuse options, we are especially looking for alternatives that conserve water resources, develop business opportunities for local entrepreneurs, or provide other benefits to the local community.

Prior to passing through the RO unit, the Sarvajal treatment process begins with a carbon cartridge filter followed by a microfiltration cassette. The main treatment unit, RO, then purifies the water to a very high quality, and treatment is concluded with ultraviolet disinfection. RO technology is commonly used in drinking water treatment applications throughout the world, ranging from small flow quantities like those in our project(around a thousand gallons per day) to much larger quantities (several hundred-million gallons per day). Brine water throughout the world is typically discharged to a surface water body or a nearby wastewater treatment plant.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Project Background

Back in January, I joined-up with fellow Master's students at the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment in attempting to tackle a fundamental resource challenge: how to maximize efficient use of ground-water stores in rural India.

We're working with Piramal Water Private Limited, which uses reverse-osmosis (RO) water purification to transform contaminated well water into clean and affordable drinking water for over 64,000 people throughout the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. RO processing can naturally produce anywhere from 2-to-6 liters of saline or contaminated brine for every 10 liters of input water, depending on how the purification machines are run. Our goal is to come up with creative techniques to either minimize brine production or utilize brine by-product.

The UN's Millennium Development Goal Indicators report that by the year 2000, India had already consumed 34.4% of its total available water resources. Over the past decade, burgeoning populating and increasing affluence have only accelerated the nation's water demands.

Operation under the name of Sarvajal - meaning: 'water for all' - Piramal franchisees provide a vital service to local residence. Our goal is to provide Piramal with a 'basket of solutions' recommending possible approaches to address and mitigate the natural inefficiencies of RO processing to help preserve ground water stores further into the future.