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How to provide clean water for everyone | Kitty Nijmeijer | TEDxTwenteU

How to provide clean water for everyone | Kitty Nijmeijer | TEDxTwenteU


Translator: Lucía Ramírez
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Two months ago, I was with my nephew
of six years old in a restaurant. We ordered food
and a bottle of still water to drink. While he was enjoying
his French fries, he asked, “Kitty, why do you buy a bottle of water when there is water
freely available from the tap?” Honestly, I did not know what to answer. Because in fact, he is right. We live in the Netherlands
and of course, there is clean water, delicious clean water from the tap,
that we can drink safely. We take it so much for granted
that we simply forget how special this is. Even in a restaurant,
we prefer a bottle of water instead of the water from the tap. While the water from the tap
is five hundred times less expensive and has at least equal quality in purity
as the water from the bottle. My nephew, with his simple question,
made me realise that this is not something
to take for granted. That this is something
we should be very proud of. Worldwide, there are 800 million people
that don’t have access to clean water. Every single minute, two people die
because they lack clean water. That means that in the eight minutes
that I will give this talk sixteen people will die. And looking at you, the audience
of one hundred people, you probably now also realise
that it will take only fifty minutes for you all to die. That is the reality.
That is the crude reality we live in. But, we can change this. Moreover, we have the responsibility
to change this. If we, together, have the will
and the ambition to do so, we can provide everyone with clean water. This is not a dream, as the technology
is already available. With membranes, we can purify water. A membrane is a filter, a sieve. It has very little holes called pores and only very small particles
can pass the pores, while the bigger particles
are simply retained by the membrane. Just like the sieves at home
in our kitchen. Our own body is full of membranes. Our kidneys, our lungs,
and every single cell in our body is covered with a cell membrane. If I’d take all the membranes from my body and place them
on the ground in front of me, I would cover a full soccer field. The membranes in my body
are natural membranes, but we can also make artificial membranes. This is such an artificial membrane. It is made of plastic. This is the plastic
this membrane is made of. This plastic is soluble in some solvents,
but it doesn’t dissolve in water. It hates water. To make a membrane from this plastic,
I first dissolve it in a solvent to make a plastic solution. That’s what you see here. Then, I take this mold
and I place it on a glass plate. And this mold has a very tiny slit
here at this side. Now I put the plastic solution in the mold and I draw the mold over the glass plate. What remains, as you can see,
is a very thin film of the plastic solution
on the glass plate. Now remember, the plastic hates the water. So see what happens
when we put it in water. A membrane. (Applause) It is that simple to make membranes. If I would look at this membrane
with a very strong microscope, I would see the picture
that appears behind me. The grey area is the plastic,
the material the membrane is made of. The black spots
are the very tiny little holes in the membrane. This membrane, we can use to purify water. And I will show you that it works. You can imagine that
depending on the mold that I use, I can make membranes
in all different shapes. I can also make membranes
in the form of a hollow straw. That’s what you see here. This is a hollow straw. And the wall of the straw
is the actual membrane. It contains the pores. Now, I clamp the membrane to close its end. Here, I’ve a glass of dirty water. It comes from the ditch
just behind this building. I’m sure that if you’d have the chance
or the choice, that you’d not drink this. At least I wouldn’t. I take some of the water and with this syringe, I push it through the inner side
of the hollow straw and see what happens. Fresh water appears at the outside
of the hollow straw. Delicious fresh water
produced with membranes. Fresh water that you can drink. (Applause) Everytime I do this, I’m touched by the beauty
and the simplicity of this process. Of course, what happens
is that only the clean water can pass through the little pores
in the membrane wall from the inside of the hollow straw
to the outside. All the pollution, all the fouling
that is present in the dirty water cannot pass the pores because
it’s simply too big to pass the pores. It is retained at the inner side
of the hollow straw. You can imagine that every now and then, we have to clean
the inner side of the membrane to remove all the fouling and pollutants. And depending on the quality
of the water that we treat, after about five years or so,
we have to replace the membranes. You can imagine that with one single straw
I can’t provide everyone with clean water. But millions and millions of such straws can be produced and are produced nowadays
into such big membrane modules, In fact, the cities
of Minneapolis in the US or Moscow in Russia,
they get their drinking water with such membranes. The membrane plants
installed in these cities each produce 250,000
litres of water every day. It is common practice
in many industrialised and developed countries. Clean water for everyone is not a dream. With membranes, it can become reality. I have a big fan. My nephew. He also understands how simple it is
to produce clean water. Moreover, more than ever before, he and I enjoy the fresh water
from the tap. If we, together, believe that everyone
on our planet has the right to have access to clean water, let us inspire world leaders, politicians,
businessmen and other people to take their responsibility
and make it happen. Clean water for everyone. (Applause)

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