A major Canadian oil and gas company is promoting a fossil fuel-free technology that promises to trickle down liquid dividends to millions of people around the globe – clean water.
Petro-Canada is joining with Mount Royal College to back a Calgary-based initiative that provides simple, affordable water-filtration units to developing countries.
The biosand water filter, a concrete-clad gravel filtration silo first developed by University of Calgary professor Dr. David Manz, is already used in more than 40 countries to remove impurities in drinking water, including dangerous bacteria and viruses. But with the help of Petro-Canada and the college, the Calgary-based Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) says it will now be able to train more people to build the filters.
“It produces water that looks good, tastes good and smells good. And we’ve found that is important to the users, because that’s how they judge the quality of the water,” says Camille Dow-Baker, president and CEO of the non-profit group.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Camille Dow-Baker of CAWST demonstrates the simplicity of a biosand filter.|
Petro-Canada announced last week that it will provide $150,000 to help Mount Royal College develop training materials and curriculum for a new extension certificate course to be offered at the college this fall. The funding is part of Petro-Canada’s support of the college’s $25-million Bright Minds, Bright Futures fund-raising campaign.
Greta Raymond, Petro-Canada’s vice-president of human resources and environment, health and safety, says the company has started to think more globally about community investment since acquiring the international assets of Veba Oil and Gas, which included properties in Venezuela, Africa and the Middle East.
“We know there are millions of people around the world who do not have access to clean water,” says Raymond. “This technology is very basic, and is something that can be put into communities not to filter out just dirt, but bacteria and viruses that cause diseases in the Third World that are so detrimental to productivity as well as to human beings in general.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to support an area of sustainable development and environment that you wouldn’t normally think of as an issue here in Canada – but around the world, it’s one of the key issues on the environmental front.”
The biosand filter uses a low-tech principle – gravity. Water is poured into the top of a rectangular concrete pillar filled with layers of fine and coarse sand and gravel.
As the water trickles down, disease-causing pathogens cling to the biologic layer created by standing water on top of the fine sand, while organic and inorganic materials are filtered out as they pass through the sand and gravel below, without the need for chlorine, other chemical additives or electricity.
The unit can produce 60 litres of clear water an hour – enough to provide a day’s worth of drinking and washing water for a family.
“We think we can meet the millennium development goals set by the United Nations of halving the number of people without access to clean water by 2015,” predicts Dow-Baker, a former oil and gas engineer who with Manz co-founded CAWST just over a year ago. Donna Spaulding, dean of the faculty of continuing education at MRC, says the college is still working on developing the curriculum for the new course.
“MRC has a really strong focus in health eduction, and if you talk to people who go out on health missions, you can fly in all the antibiotics in the world, but if you don’t have clean water, as soon as you’re gone the problems come back again,” Spaulding says. “Given the worldwide concern about sanitary water, I think this is a wonderful solution.”