Liquid Filters to the Rescue

by Michael Shade, IQS Editor

If the World Health Organization’s estimates are correct, close to 15% of the world’s population (that’s around 1 billion people) doesn’t have regular access to clean drinking water. “Water and sanitation are among the most important determinants of public health,” says Dr. Lee Jong-wook, the Director-General of the WHO. Populations most effected by water scarcity tend to be concentrated in rural Africa and Asia. Climate conditions contribute to water shortage in those places, but inadequate infrastructure and poor resource management compound the problem, expanding the staggering disparity between conditions in the developed world and the developing world in terms of sanitation and clean water access. The long term solution to these problems involves cultivating the will to combat environmental degradation as well as helping the developing world build its own permanent physical and management infrastructures. In the meantime, though, innovations in liquid filter design are offering immediate relief to many.

Photo courtesy of Precision Filtration Products.

Liquid filtration is a fairly easy concept to grasp. The object of filtration, in drinking water purification as well as in industrial chemical filtration, is the separation of particles from each other. In the case of drinking water filtration, the process involves passing water through a filter that removes particles from the water. In recent years, the development of inexpensive but effective filtering materials has allowed for the creation of products like the BioSand and LifeStraw filters, which can eliminate close to 100% of harmful contaminants from water sources. Especially in hot climates, water sources can be breeding grounds for water-borne diseases. Also, because industrial regulations tend to be weak and inadequately enforced in underdeveloped countries, the chances that a water source near a mine or factory is contaminated with harmful chemicals can be quite high. Simple filtering systems like the BioSand and LifeStraw filters can be produced at low cost and shipped anywhere in the world; they require little training to operate, and some models can be used for up to an entire year before replacement is necessary. These and other similar products are industry’s contribution to solving one of the world’s most serious health crises.

Industry has also played an important role in water filtration outside of the context of the drinking water crisis. In the developed world, industrial water filters are used for the filtration of water on very large scales. They can be used for water filtration at municipal water treatment facilities as well as in industrial settings. Water is an important ingredient in many industrial processes. Water jet cutting, plastic extrusion and molding, media blasting and many other processes require access to clean water or water-based mixtures. Filtration systems are necessary for the provision of water-based solutions that feature the right proportions of water and solutes. Water itself can be the product of an industrial process; reverse osmosis water filters are used by many companies for the filtration of commercially-produced bottled water. The global bottled water business is said to be worth nearly $60 billion. In 2006, it produced more than 30 million gallons of purified water.

Photo courtesy of Precision Filtration Products.

Liquid filters are also important in the management of non-water-based liquids like fuels and coolants. Effective filtration of such materials can mean the difference between safe, effective operation of an engine and catastrophic failure. Almost all motorized vehicles are equipped with fuel filters (also called gas filters), which prevent the introduction of contaminants that may be suspended in fuel from reaching an engine. Over time, unfiltered fuel could cause the slow accumulation of sediment in an engine, eventually rendering it unusable or dangerous. Filters range in complexity from simple fibrous sheets to elaborate, automated industrial filtration systems.

Photo courtesy of Precision Filtration Products.

Whether a liquid filtering system is involved in extending the life of a vehicle or providing clean water to thirsty people, liquid filters are an example of the importance of industry, not only to the strength of economies, but to health worldwide. A piece of equipment as simple as a tube packed with fibrous filtering media can mean the difference between sickness and health for millions of people. As technology develops, and as the constituent parts of water filters become less expensive, the future can seem a little brighter, at least as far as the problem of clean water shortage is concerned.

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