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Water on the brain


Many Areas of Need

The purification process has segmented off to multiple industries. Food, for example. “There’s a tremendous amount of water that’s used in the production of meat, of hamburgers and steaks,” he says. “It’s wash water, it’s package water, it’s other things. In many foods, hydration and water is a principle ingredient, a direct ingredient. If you’re going to send out Twinkies, you need everything put in there to be controlled. It has to be validated to some extent, so you’re not introducing impurities or contaminants or E. coli.”

Water-on-the-Brain_01The pharmaceutical industry is another vital area and one you might not expect. It’s heavily regulated by governmental authorities and in the U.S. companies are required to start with drinking water quality. “If we’re going to produce a water for the manufacture of drugs, maybe it’s IV fluids or the manufacture of cough syrup, usually the water quality is one of two grades, either water for injection or what’s called USP purified water. [It’s] not necessarily directly injecting into veins but might be used to wash off scalpels before they’re packaged or for cough syrups that you can swallow.” But executing the process for the pharmaceutical industry is difficult, and engineers with good organization and documentation skills can find opportunity since the paperwork through regulations can be “monumentally burdensome.”

Marine oil and gas is also a critical industry for water purification, providing the opportunity to put desalination plants on platforms for a crew that may have in excess of 100 people. But Gsell also says that even providing purified water for the drilling fluids and feeding production processes is a place where an engineer can come into play.

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But there’s still a need to bring what the developed world would consider mature technology to the developing world. Gsell says he was once asked to go to a village in Ecuador during downtime from a job to help with their contaminated water. He asked if they had any chlorine to sterilize the well. Their supply?

Three teaspoons.

Water is no small problem in the U.S. and the developed world either. “You can’t live without water," he says. "And, even in [the U.S.], the infrastructure to carry water is just crumbling. It’s more than 200 years old.”

In other words, it sounds like there’s a lot of work for engineers to do.