Experts and Entrepreneurs – Part 3

In posts about the expert Dr. John Cairns and the entrepreneur Rafael Gonzalez of Portaqua, I conveyed my reaction to what I consider a model of the high level of synergy that can occur when experts and entrepreneurs have the courage to share ideas and information.

Below is their exchange. John Cairns's review is separated into points and Rafael Gonzalez, CEO of Portaqua, responds.

Less than 1% of the world's fresh water (~ 0.007% of all water on earth) is accessible for direct human use.

In researching water issues, we found that in many countries, the surface water that used to be potable is now contaminated. Countries like Mexico have 80% of its potable water contaminated. Various studies by such agencies as the
World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and others found the impact of water contamination in small communities was greater due to lack of proper purification systems.  Such is the case for tube wells in India and Pakistan. As reported by ABC News, the WHO has called the issue “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history."

For this reason, we decided to design a water purification plant that would address a broader purification spectrum rather than just a basic water filtration system that would not address contaminants such as arsenic and fluoride. We focused on small villages since my business partner’s family operated 21 bottling plants in Mexico, which were purchased by PepsiCO in 2001. He found that with water bottling, once a community was 200 miles or further, 40% of the water cost was distribution. In many villages, the locals are spending 25 to 35% of daily income to obtain water of questionable quality.

The idea was to design a package water plant that would purify water and bottle water for distribution. This would eliminate the need for complex piping distribution and create a revenue stream to maintain the plant and create micro-jobs for the village. A typical plant creates approximately 5 to 7 jobs.

Our systems are pre-plumbed and pre-wired for fast set-up and installation. By using “Value Innovation” technology we were able to simplify the process and produce a plant that weighs less than 800 pounds.We can install a water purification/bottling plant in under 24 hours.

It is not clear whether the Portaqua portable water treatment system will remove such things as endocrine disrupters, which may have deleterious effects in very low concentrations (e.g. parts per trillion or quadrillion).

We wanted to insure the system would purify as many contaminants as possible, including metals, fluoride, arsenic, and endocrine disrupters. For the organics and pharma products, we are using a combination of technologies that are presently recommended as best practice by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since all data indicates this is the best available treatment.

For metals and salts, we use reverse osmosis technology with proprietary logic that reduces the energy requirements for the purification process. This allows us to treat a broad range of contaminants. Our typical system produces approximately 50 five-gallon bottles per hour and we are able to have a non-technical person in a village purifying and bottling water in fewer than four hours.

Neither individual in the promotional video taken in a Mexican garage was wearing plastic gloves (common in food and beverage handling) or clean laboratory coats.

This video was from our first plant which we used for patent application and developing the concept. In newer videos and all existing plants we train the personnel in proper sanitation and hygiene and staff members wear gloves, lab coats, head covers, and masks.

The portable water treatment system runs on electricity, which may not always be available.

We are using new reverse osmosis (RO) technology with proprietary programming that allows for reduced energy usage. Our system, if operated using a generator, will use approximately 1 gallon of gasoline per 11 hours of operation. With input from Dr. Tamim Younos of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech,
we hope to utilize wind or solar due to the low energy requirements and develop a system that uses “rain water harvesting." According to Dr. Younos, there is a major shift to a pipe-less society and a decentralized system. This new model will better deliver services to communities worldwide. Our Portaqua system was designed with this decentralized design for maximum value and efficiency.

The promotional video demonstrates removal of particulate matter, but has no persuasive evidence for removal of Giardia cysts or other water borne diseases.

For removal of water borne diseases, we are using a multiple barrier from
MIOX Corporation. Mixed oxidants usually are several orders of magnitude more effective in microbial contaminant inactivation than conventional chlorine, achieving up to 2 logs higher inactivation of even extremely resistant organisms.

The processing time appears to be short (the rack of bottles filled quickly), which indicates short residence time in the treatment system.

Please see the above discussion on storage/filling.

There was no information on how often the treatment system was cleaned or how effective the cleaning process was.

The typical plant is operated approximately 10 to 12 hours. We instruct the personnel on cleaning and this is done daily. We use best practice methods established by the International Bottled Water Association.

It is always cheaper and more effective to treat water contaminants at the source; however, this system might work in emergencies (e.g. Katrina), but more evidence is needed on the system's performance.

We have designed our plants to be transportable and since developing the original plants, we have designed an emergency water purification system mounted on a trailer that provides water purification locally at the emergency site. We have eliminated the need to transport bottled water via helicopters at a cost to the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of as much as $36 per gallon. By combining our purification plant with our Bagua water storage solution [written about previously here], we deliver a new paradigm of water delivery. We recently demonstrated it to the Mexican military and are getting many requests for field demonstrations.

Currently we have 40 plants in operation and will be expanding to the Central and South American markets in the coming months.

It is always helpful to be able to present our technology to knowledgeable industry experts since this can only make us better in our designs. As we look to integrate Portaqua's technology with Virginia Tech's research in areas such as in water harvesting, wind and/or sun energy, and the reduction of weight with composite material, we feel the impact of VT will be major in our efforts to improve water quality worldwide.


The series:
Experts and Entreprenurs – Part 1
Experts and Entrepreneurs – Part 2
Experts and Entrepreneurs – Part 3
Experts and Entrepreneurs – Part 4


  1. I've seen the great and previously unbelievable need for such systems in Nigeria, Senegal, China, and India. This is an amazing accomplishment in many ways. It can reduce the labor and loss of human time of women in carrying water.

    Last year in Eastern Tennessee in a former coal-mining town, a water line was finally installed to a home where a teen-age girl had been tending her sick and aged father for years using water collected in plastic jugs from a spring. The uses of the technology need not require travel funds.

    Yesterday a report was made stating human toxicants of all types are now found throughout the most remote National Parks (by implication everywhere). The needs for purification are now great and probably will increase with water re-use.

    An amazing accomplishment for us all!

  2. Very good article. Yes, even water can effect cause food poisoning. This can effect in the long run of a human life.

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