Water Purification Device Aids in Central American Relief Effort

Hurricane Mitch's devastating sweep through the Honduras put the health of thousands at risk for lack of sanitary drinking water.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch's devastating rampage through Central America, a device invented at Berkeley Lab is being deployed to disinfect drinking water in areas ravaged by the storm. The second-strongest storm to sweep through the western Caribbean since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Mitch left some 10,000 people dead and laid waste to the economies and infrastructures of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Thousands more lives are at risk for lack of sanitary drinking water. In response, many of the disaster relief efforts are bringing in "UV Waterworks"-a small, simple device that uses ultraviolet light to quickly, safely and cheaply disinfect water of the viruses and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and other deadly diseases.

Invented by Ashok Gadgil, a scientist with the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, UV Waterworks is ideally suited for emergency situations.

"Unlike other ultraviolet-based water purifiers, UV Waterworks does not require pressurized water-delivery systems and electrical outlets," says Gadgil. "It is designed to rely on gravity for water flow, which means it can be used with any source of water."

Needing electricity only to operate its small UV lamp and automatic shutoff valve, UV Waterworks can be powered by a car battery or a 60-watt solar cell. About the size of a microwave oven and weighing seven kilograms (15 pounds), it can disinfect water at the rate of four gallons per minute, similar to the flow from a typical American bathtub spout. Passing water through ultraviolet light inactivates the DNA of pathogens and purifies the water at a cost of about five cents for every thousand gallons.

In addition to their deployment to the Central American countries hit by Hurricane Mitch, UV Waterworks devices are extensively used in Mexico and the Philippines. It is estimated that in Manila alone several thousand people now purchase their daily drinking water from vending stations with UV Waterworks devices. Other countries in which the device is used include Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.

UV Waterworks has won major awards from both Discover and Popular Science magazines. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Institution added a UV Waterworks device to their permanent collection of medical inventions. This device is currently on display at the National Museum of American History. The UV Waterworks technology has been licensed to WaterHealth International, Inc. (WHI), which has been working with Central American relief organizations in response to the Hurricane Mitch crisis. Gadgil has been busy designing a "disaster relief" version of UV Waterworks with funding from DOE and WHI.

"This version has a pump, a hydrocyclonic separator, and a series of filters to remove silt, suspended solids, and turbidity from inlet water which can then be treated with UV Waterworks to produce potable water," says Gadgil. "The system can be also configured with a granulated activated carbon filter to treat waters with low levels of organic chemical contaminants."

Although this new version of UV Waterworks cannot handle "severe" chemical contamination of the water, it can be used to treat the soil, mud and biological contaminants that are common in most disaster relief situations.

The research prototype of this new version of UV Waterworks weighs 100 kilograms (250 pounds) and can produce more than 5,000 gallons of drinking water daily.


New Website Helps Homeowners Save Energy Dollars

Homeowners can save hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills by using Berkeley Lab's new Home Energy Saver (HES) website.

HES brings advanced building simulation software to interactive World Wide Web pages to help consumers identify technologies that will save them the most energy and money. By logging onto the site, you can, for example, quickly determine how much money you would save by installing insulation in your attic, as well as where you would find the best insulation products and a good contractor to do the job.

The HES site is divided into two main sections, "Energy Advisor" and "Making it Happen." Energy Advisor computes a home's total energy use based on information that you enter. Once you supply your zip code, Energy Advisor will show you the energy use, bills, or energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for your area's typical house, and a comparable energy-efficient house.

Making It Happen provides time-saving links to hundreds of Internet sites with practical, detailed information about energy-efficient homes, products, service providers, utility programs, and online reading materials. An Answer Desk feature provides answers to frequently asked questions about home energy use in terms that the average homeowner can understand.

"The Home Energy Saver represents a fundamental departure from previous energy calculators because it is Web-based. The site brings together in one user-friendly package the analytical capabilities of many sophisticated calculation methods," says Evan Mills, Home Energy Saver project leader and a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD).

Rich Brown, EETD researcher and Home Energy Saver's production manager, adds, "The energy calculations in HES are based on models and data from years of research at Berkeley Lab detailing how people use energy in their homes-for example the types of appliances and equipment in homes, as well as use patterns."

Berkeley Lab researchers developed the HES Internet site for the ENERGY STAR Program, an initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DOE.


Global Climate Change Forecasts Trouble for California Wildfires

A new study correlates the effects of global climate change on the frequency and severity of wildfires
Against the backdrop of concerns raised in the aftermath of last year's El Ni�o weather anomaly, Berkeley Lab researchers have released the first-ever analysis of the potential effect of global climate change on wildfires and the ability to suppress them.

"In most cases, climate change would lead to dramatic increases in both the annual area burned by California wildfires and the number of potentially catastrophic fires-doubling these losses in some regions," the researchers conclude.

Commenting on the study, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "This study is indicative of the mounting evidence that the potential effects of climate change can be wide-ranging and very costly."

Other parts of the country might be just as vulnerable as California, according to Margaret Torn of Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division, one of the three scientists who conducted the study. "Our analysis shows how big an impact climate change can have, and suggests that future climatic conditions in other parts of the United States warrant concern and study," she said.

The other scientists who conducted this study were Evan Mills, with Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and Jeremy Fried, an associate professor of forestry at Michigan State University. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nearly 85 percent of all catastrophe-related insurance payouts result from natural disasters, with claims averaging about $10 billion per year worldwide over the past decade. Wildfires are among the most pervasive of all the natural disasters, especially for California. According to studies by insurance agencies, of the 38 costliest U.S. wildfires between 1825 and 1995, 22 were in California, and the state also ranks number one in economic losses due to wildfire.

Fire danger has long been linked to climate, with hot, dry spells creating the highest risk. Concerns over the consequences of global warming were rekindled this year by the impacts of El Ni�o. Droughts linked to El Ni�o were followed by widespread, devastating fires in Florida, Indonesia and elsewhere. "The latest predictions suggest that global warming may also create conditions that intensify wildfire danger, by warming and drying out vegetation, and by stirring the winds that spread fires," the Berkeley Lab researchers say in a report on their analysis. "Faster fires are much harder to contain, and thus are more likely to expand into residential neighborhoods, incurring substantial damage to insured property."

To evaluate the potential effects of global climate change on wildfire damage in California, the research team of Torn, Mills and Fried combined local weather and fire data, validated fire and fire suppression models, and state-of-the-art general global climate models.

Three regions in Northern California were examined-Santa Clara, the Sierra foothills, and Humboldt. Each features a distinct climate, and, together, harbor most of the vegetation types found in the American west, including grass, chaparral (scrub or brush), oak savanna, and mixed conifer and redwood forests.

Taking a conservative approach, the researchers only reported the results based on the climate change model that predicted the least impact on wildfire. This model, from the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, provides standard scenarios for climate change impact assessments used by government and university scientists around the world.

"Climate change would cause fires to spread faster and burn more intensely in most vegetation types," the researchers concluded in their report. These faster, hotter fires could be expected to escape containment more frequently, despite increased fire suppression efforts, resulting in many more acres being burned than under the current climate.

"The biggest impacts were seen in grass vegetation, where the fastest spread rates already occur," says Fried. "In forests, where fires move much more slowly, projected impacts were less severe." In their modeling, Torn, Mills and Fried found that the most severe effects of global climate change were inflicted on the Sierra foothills, where the predicted number of potentially catastrophic fires increased by 143 percent in grassland and 121 percent in chaparral.

In the Santa Clara region, the predicted number of escaped wildfires increased by 53 and 21 percent, respectively, in grassland and chaparral. Only in Humboldt, the third region examined, which is characterized by redwood forests growing in moist, foggy areas, was there little change in wildfire damage as a result of climate change.

Results of this analysis are being shared with the California Department of Forestry which has been cooperating with the Berkeley Lab researchers throughout.