A Cinderella Story of an Outdoor Portable Water Filter

Once upon a time, in the tropical land of Brazil far, far away, I, Ricardo Braun, a biologist and a filmmaker had an inspiration to build a portable water purification system for outdoor expeditions. In fact, the inspiration came after a relative challenged me to build a portable water purification system for remote areas in 2008. Some weeks later in the middle of the night, the idea came after fitting a water ceramic filter into a zip plastic bag.  A sketch model and prototype was then developed and tested in a couple of conservation areas in Rio de Janeiro. The prototype worked well with great potential to become scalable. However, the kit still required better materials to resist weather conditions and constant wear and tear.

In the same year, I took the prototype to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where academic resources were available. Parallel to the research, the prototype was improved using special zip stand-up storage pouches developed in the Netherlands. The new pouches upgraded the portable water purification system and the prototype was tested in severe weather conditions including freezing temperatures at Ullapool river in the Scottish highlands. After continuous efforts for six months, the results were rewarding and the kit was ready to scale.

I went back to Brazil and founded an informal business called Petrusfilter® water purification system. In 2009, a number of kits were produced for outdoor activities. The kits were sold to mountaineer friends and later commercialized in outdoor shops. We successfully tested in the Amazonian forests, in Goa in India, at Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania, and at Mount Roraima in Venezuela’s Savannah region. We applied for a patent at the Brazilian National Institute for Industrial Protection and the project was ready to kick-off. After a good run, however, in 2014, the industry that supplied ceramic filters closed due to an economic recession, forcing the project to cease temporarily. Other products came into the scene, momentarily eclipsing the Petrusfilter dream!

Ricardo with a Petrusfilter in Brazil

Ricardo discussing collaborations at the empowering people. Network Workshop in Amsterdam

Fortunately, this was not the end of the road as new opportunities came up at the empowering people. Network (epNetwork) Workshop in Amsterdam in 2017.  My case was analyzed through the ‘My Story Graph’ method throwing light on potential solutions that could transform the destiny of my business. The most important suggestion was to find a partner or investor. The workshop enabled meeting and networking opportunities with other like-minded enterprises including Nazava, a water purification company based in Indonesia. Nazava displayed several interesting water purification filter models, that had parallels with Petrusfilter: of providing healthy water for people in remote areas or during emergency situations.

To get Petrusfilter back on track, I filled the SAMforSE self-assessment questionnaire and applied for a sponsorship from Siemens Stiftung. My application was approved and for three months remote sessions were carried out to consolidate a business model for Petrusfilter. The outcome was to establish pathways to develop business alliances along with developing a pitch document for enterprises working in the area of water purification. This was initially sent to epNetwork member Nazava, who accepted the invitation and joined discussions to assess the challenges and opportunities to jointly produce portable water purification kits. The SAMforSE consultant recommended carrying out a practical workshop on technology transfer, marketing and commercialization in Indonesia. Siemens Stiftung approved and financed ‘Petrusfilter powered by Nazava project’ along with my travel for a three-week workshop in Indonesia in January 2019.

Arriving in Jakarta was similar to visiting the Amazon region because of the similar equatorial climate. The ride from Jakarta to Bandung showed different landscapes from a coastal ecosystem to a mountainous landscape with cooler temperatures. The smells, sounds, colors, the crazy traffic contrasted with some islands of tranquillity in Bandung. The melodious chanting coming five times a day from a mosque in Bandung seemed to be totally aligned with the spiritual rituals of the Hindu temples in Bali.  Indonesia is home to a dense population with extreme conditions, frequented by earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic disruptions yet the people seem to be at peace with their natural surroundings.

Hindu and Buddhist relics in Bali depicting multiculturalism

Our project was divided into three intensive phases. The first was at Nazava’s headquarters in Bandung,  where the focus was on technology transfer, co-creation, acquiring components, prototyping, source test, visual design development. This also included training Nazava employees, setting up appointments with organizations and NGOs in Jakarta and Bali. The first few days of the joint venture saw intense discussions, merging of ideas and mindsets in a different cultural setting along with adopting technologies in a very short time frame. The planned Google Agenda worked very well to guide work progress. Several problems arose but were eventually mitigated. We managed all this and much more by producing 100 filter kits.

Joint teams assembling Petrusfilter powered by Nazava

Demonstrating the use of Petrusfilter powered by Nazava to a local community in Indonesia

The second week was consumed by meetings mainly in Jakarta with social and emergency relief organizations like World Vision, Ministry of Health, Care, Red Cross and a few others.  We demonstrated the usage and benefits to these global organizations, emphasizing the edge our lightweight equipment had in remote areas that demand quick response to procure clean and safe water. We also distributed samples to test the kits in areas prone to natural calamities and emergency situations. In the last week of my stay, I met existing users of Nazava like Kopernic, an international NGO in Bali and retailers like Social ImpaKt that recently raised funds to provide many Nazava filters for earthquake relief in the island of Lombok. During our training sessions, it was interesting to observe the reactions from local communities. In Sidemen village our session was facilitated by a Mangku a local Hindu priest. a

The Navaza ceramic filter fitted well with the Petrusfilter structure and the assembling of the kits have been adapted to Nazava’s production facilities. Our combined kits were tested by Red Cross in an emergency camp in Indonesia and Kopernic has already ordered a number of water purification kits for their social projects in Bali. Looks like it is going to be a happily ever after for this epNetwork collaboration!

Ricardo Braun is a biologist, designer and filmmaker with a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Aberdeen. He has worked on environmental issues for more than 35 years. He designed Petrusfilter for remote settlements and emergency situations and is a member of epNetwork since 2015.  With the support of the network he produced a documentary film Zikomo Zambia. He is part of the Centre for Environmental Practice in Brazil since 2010 and has participated in several research and film expeditions in the Amazon region, Africa and Europe for several organizations.

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