34 up franchises that filter and bottle the
water and sell it to their communities. The
company does this by providing promising
business owners with a complete “turn-key”
business set up: a water-treatment unit;
infrastructure to house the equipment;
bottles in 1.5-, 7- and 20-liter sizes to sell to
customers; operational training, marketing
and branding support; and ongoing techni-
cal support. It requires the entrepreneur to
contribute $1,000 of the $30,000 start-up
costs to ensure they have “skin in the game,”
says Randy Welsch.
Locals in Jibu’s three initial start-up markets
—Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic
Republic of Congo—were keen on the idea,
but Jibu’s technology created a bottleneck
to getting franchises up and running. Every
new franchise was given its own customized
filtration system to account for different
community sizes, water sources and taste
preferences. But this approach was costly
and complicated, which motivated the
Welches to outsource the engineering.
“We are such different organizations, but
we saw so much mission alignment with what
they were doing,” Malone says of Healing Waters’
first introduction to Jibu.
Healing Waters offered Jibu its PowerPure
model to try, which Jibu tested alongside
other technologies during an 18-month testing
phase. The Welsches ultimately favored Healing
Waters’ technology but ran into a familiar
problem with it: unreliable power supplies.
“The systems would be down for days at a
time,” says Randy Welsch, adding that run-
ning a back-up generator would be prohibi-
tively expensive for most of its franchisees.
He and Galen went back to Healing Waters
with number of proposed modifications.
“We ended up doing a whole new design
for them,” says Malone. “By that point, we
were about four years in with that system
and were thinking about a redesign any way.”
Within five months, Healing Waters
designed, built and shipped a completely new
prototype and installed the first four of these
units in Rwanda and Uganda in January 2015.
They called the new model the SolarPure.
A NE W KIND OF TECHNOLOGY
The SolarPure looks very different than
Healing Waters’ two other models. The
system is powered by solar panels, which
are common rooftop fixtures in many of the
urban neighborhoods that Jibu targets. It is
also a higher capacity system that pushes
water through the ultrafiltration membranes at a rate of approximately 30 liters
per minute. This eliminates the need for a
water storage tank and thereby cuts down
infrastructure costs for franchisees.
SolarPures are adaptable to different
power conditions as well. On days when power
levels are low (say on a cloudy day), the units
continue filtering water via an ultra-efficient
solar-compatible “flex” pump that can run
on power levels as low as 200 watts, as well
as on variable voltages. The units also come
with deep-cycle rechargeable batteries as a
complete back-up option to solar power.
As Healing Waters’ engineers were design-
ing the SolarPure, their first inclination was
to build a fully automated unit. “But we
realized that if any of the wiring got discon-
nected, or if there was a surge from the elec-
trical supply, which happens a lot in Africa,
and one of the pieces got fried, it would be
confusing to figure out what needed to be
replaced,” explains Malone.
Instead, they installed manual controls for
everything, and moved them onto a single front
panel so operators can tell at a glance when
something goes wrong, like a clogged filter.
To manage the flow of water, the operator
uses a simple ball-valve handle in the center of
the unit. “If the handle is parallel with the direc-
tion of the water flow, that means it is open.
If the handle is perpendicular, that means it is
closed. It is really simple and easy to fix should
something go wrong,” Malone says.
To clean the filters, the operator uses a
hand pump to push clean water back through
the membranes. Each backwashing session
takes about five minutes and must be done
several times a day.
The upfront equipment cost of an RO system
is 1.6x the cost of a UF system.
Operating an RO system costs 2.5x as much
as a UF system annually.
Over five years, an RO system costs roughly
2x the amount of a UF system.
FIG 2: Cost of ownership for ultrafiltration v. reverse osmosis technology
UF RO UF RO UF RO