News | Apr 24, 2018

Army’s portable ‘WAsP’ water purifier coming to market

Army Corps of Engineers lab transfers backpack-sized reverse osmosis filter with a big capacity for clean water to small business

JUNCOS, Puerto Rico, Sept. 29, 2017 - A disaster aid worker fills jugs of water delivered by a tanker to residents for drinking, cleaning and cooking at one of many distribution points throughout Puerto Rico.

Paul McKellips/FEMA Photo

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, disaster aid workers scrambled to find clean water. Damage to the state’s already fragile infrastructure left tens of thousands of households without running water.

Medical experts who arrived in Puerto Rico after Maria hit said dirty water caused everything from vomiting and diarrhea to conjunctivitis, scabies, and leptospirosis, a nasty bacteria linked to two deaths.

It took weeks and months for some to access clean water.

“My family doesn’t have water where I live,” said Pvt. Kaira Perez, of the Puerto Rico National Guard, while she distributed clean water more than three weeks after the hurricane hit.

Existing water purification equipment like the 3,000 gallons per hour Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (it’s an 8-wheeled truck) used by Perez are often too big. Natural disasters like Hurricane Maria can block roads, which also prevent bottled water delivery.

The same problem is faced by forward-deployed military units, which is why the U.S. Army Engineer Research & Development Center (ERDC) invented the man-portable Water Assessment and Purification Toolkit, or WAsP.

Designed, developed, and patented by researchers at ERDC’s Geospatial Research Laboratory in Alexandria, Virginia, the WAsP toolkit is packaged within a backpack, providing soldiers a portable, efficient, and compact means of water assessment and purification.

On Tuesday, Newcomer Arms LLC, a small, fast-growing firm in New Jersey that specializes in military equipment, licensed the design.

Newcomer President Darryl Nowak plans to make it available to military and humanitarian customers.

“Right now, we don’t see commercial off-the-shelf systems meeting the capacity and size needs of military units or humanitarian agencies operating off the grid,” Nowak said. “The WAsP is going to increase unit responsiveness to changing environments without concern for water re-supply.”

WAsP cleans three gallons (12 liters) of water per hour using commercial off-the-shelf reverse osmosis filters for water purification and a 12-volt pump that can operate for six to seven hours on solar or wind-rechargeable batteries.

The filtered water “flows through a suite of sensors, which gauge the physical water quality in terms of pH, temperature, oxidation-reduction potential, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and turbidity,” according to the Army.

It also includes an “electro-chlorination cell that can produce 2 percent bleach from a solution of salt water in 15 minutes,” which allows critical water sanitization and other decontamination efforts.

This is the first patent license agreement transferring Geospatial Research Laboratory technology to a private-sector partner. Under federal law, government inventions can be transferred to companies that want to develop new products and services.

TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary, has assisted Newcomer Arms in licensing several other patented technologies including a novel metal fatigue sensor and a backpack docking connector design. The licenses come with upfront fees and annual royalty payments, but TechLink’s assistance in navigating the process is funded by the military.

“ERDC is the research arm of the Army Corps of Engineers which is probably best known for managing waterways and levees. However, their technology development efforts are critical to military engineering and infrastructure for bases and forward installations,” said Marti Elder, TechLink’s senior technology manager who facilitated the patent license agreement.

“It’s also a major source of dual-use innovations.”

Headshot Image of Marti Elder, CLP

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