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Every night before Ron Shani's father dropped him off at the children's house in Kibbutz Amiad, he would ask whether he wanted to hear a story about an inventive patent or world news. "It didn't matter which one I picked, he always told me a story about water," says Shani, 39, an engineer. "This is where my knowledge of water originated. I grew up learning about water filters and solutions from my father."
Shani's father was one of the founding members of Amiad, an international company that today has factories around the world, and the first to build a primitive water filtration system. "My father is an engineer and an inventor. He was always making things, and after he built the first filter for Kibbutz Amiad, he was invited to build more for other kibbutzim around the country."
After completing his army service, Shani spent three years in the US traveling and doing odd jobs, including giving guided tours to other Israelis. In 1996, he returned and started working in the hi-tech industry, where he stayed for 10 years as a marketing consultant and business developer.
After the hi-tech bubble burst in 2000, Shani started looking for the next big thing. "In the process of trying to decide what I wanted to do next, I understood that a humanitarian water solution was lacking in the industry, and I knew that the World Health Organization was starting to invest financially in the global problem," he says. "I decided to see if I could design a better product than what exists on the market today." After months of research, Shani realized that most personal water purification systems were extremely expensive and difficult to use.
With these problems in mind, he created the prototype for the Sulis Personal Purification System. The name originates with the Celtic goddess Sulis, known for her healing powers and the protector of the hot springs in Aquae Sulis, the site of modern Bath in England.
According to Yossi Sandak, the CEO of Watersheer (the company Shani founded in 2005 to produce water filtration systems), 1.6 billion people in the world today don't have access to clean drinking water and 2.5 million children under the age of five die every year due to polluted water.
"In many African and Indian villages, especially around the Ganges River, the adults become immune to the bacteria in their water sources, but many of the children die from drinking the same water," Sandak says.
SMALL ENOUGH to fit in the palm of your hand, the Sulis filter weighs 10 grams, fits easily onto the top of almost any water bottle and filters three types of pollutants: biological (bacteria, viruses, parasites), organic (silt, algae, dirt) and chemical (detergents, pesticides).
"The innovative thing about Sulis is that it's small, reusable and extremely inexpensive," says Shani. "Our target population is the humanitarian sector, such as the WHO, so we had to make something affordable."
But the Sulis filter also has implications for international travelers, military personnel and natural disaster victims, like those stranded without water in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina created terrible pollution.
"We adhered to the 'KIS' standard of design, which means keep it simple," Sandak says. "It's easy to make something expensive and complicated, but making something that even a child or an elderly person can use that works well was very challenging."
To use the Sulis filter, a chlorine capsule that kills bacteria is first dropped into the bottled water. After six minutes, the filter can be affixed to the top of the bottle. A small net traps the bacteria that chlorine cannot kill, such as giardia. Then, a carbon and silver ion filter traps any remaining chemical pollutants and gives the water a better taste.
To meet larger-scale needs in densely populated areas during times of crisis, Shani designed a second product called the Sokol, which can purify 100 liters of water in 30 minutes. In this process, the pollutants are separated using a special chlorine tablet that enlarges some of the pollutants, making them heavier, forcing them to the bottom of the tank. The lighter pollutants naturally float to the top, and the middle section of the water is then removed and filtered with the Sulis.
"One of the other challenges with these filtration systems is that you never know the source of the water, so it has to meet high standards of purity," Shani says. "At around $24 for a Sulis that cleans 1,000 liters of water, ours is by far the least expensive and the most affordable one for humanitarian aid."
In November, at the annual Water Technologies and Environmental Control conference, Watersheer will officially begin selling the Sulis filtration system to the public and humanitarian organizations. Joined by dozens of other innovative Israeli companies that are providing better solutions for wastewater management, irrigation, and desalination, Watersheer is hoping to stand out with Sulis.
"We designed Sulis to meet the growing needs for clean water around the world," says Shani. "I hope that with Sulis, places like Shanghai will no longer suffer from the black market in mineral water that is charging exorbitant prices, something like $6 for a liter of clean water. Everyone should have access to clean drinking water, and our product is going to save lives by providing it."