Geospatial Research Laboratory team receives water quality patent

US Army Engineer Research and Development Center
Published July 26, 2019
Geospatial Research Laboratory team receives water quality patent

Dr. Andmorgan Fisher, right, and Dr. Michael Anderson, left, conduct testing of small water purification equipment and the bleach generator at the Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—A test and purify invention worthy of a patent can be used for cleaner and safer water for Soldiers serving in austere environments, thanks to a creative team from the U. S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Geospatial Research Laboratory.

With the name “High Concentration Bleach Generator Apparatus,” both the system and method of use were invented by Dr. Andmorgan Fisher, research biologist with GRL’s Data and Signature Analysis Branch; Dr. Clint Smith, research biologist, with the same DSAB; Alex Ly, computer scientist, GRL Data Representation Branch; and Dr. Michael Anderson, a chemical engineer currently with the U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Center Ground Vehicle Systems Center.

“This system is intended for use by Soldiers or military units who are producing water using small purifiers and have no means of testing product water for biologicals such as coliforms and protozoans,” Fisher said.

These biologicals are composed of potentially harmful and disease-carrying bacteria common and often abundant in fresh, brackish and salt water. 

“The motivation was that in austere environments, military units may have no means of testing product water for these biologicals. The Bleach Generator can produce batch reactions of 7% bleach solution from saltwater brine. A concentration of one part per million bleach in water will kill protozoans such as Giardia after approximately 45 minutes of contact time. The use of bleach for sanitizing drinking water provides a workable alternative to tests such as the Colilert-18 to ensure that any biologicals in water intended for drinking are killed,” Fisher said.

Fisher added that the bleach can also be used to sanitize water or equipment and for cleaning and disinfection.

“Commercial bleach generators, also called electro-chlorinators, were already in existence but could only provide a maximum concentration of 0.8% bleach. Our team realized that the concentration of bleach produced could be increased by re-designing the reaction chamber. We segregated the reaction in anionic and cationic chambers where electrodes separate the brine solution into hydrogen gas, chlorine gas and an alkali and alkaline hydroxide mass. We used a hydrogen selective membrane to vent the hydrogen gas. At this point a pump conveys the chlorine gas to the cationic chamber where it combines with the alkali and alkaline hydroxide mass to form a bleach solution. Users can draw off the bleach and use it to disinfect water,” Fisher said.

She explained that “standard electro-chlorinators produce a 0.8% bleach solution in batch reactions from a brine solution, generally comprised of salt and water. We wanted to produce a more concentrated bleach solution in order to treat greater volumes of water and have more dilution options for disinfection and cleaning. It will improve conditions because bleach can be made at the point of need from salt and water. Another improvement is that bleach made at the point of need will be of known concentration. In contrast, the concentration of bleach that is transported and stored deteriorates over time.”

According to an Army surgeon’s letter of endorsement, “This type of system once refined and field ruggedized, has significant potential to support our Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) through provision of potable water and water quality surveillance data… I have worked in Special Operations support for more than 20 years and can state unequivocally that this technology will enhance our ability to conduct special operations worldwide.”

The GRL team began technology development of their apparatus in the summer of 2014.

“The bleach generator was created and tested at our laboratory at George Mason University. We tested a prototype system with the Marine Experimentation Center in August 2014 and again at Fort Lee, Virginia in July 2015,” Fisher said.

The team filed for the patent in 2015. ERDC’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer coordinated the patent process with issue in September 2018. Newcomer Arms, LLC, obtained the license in August 2018 with plans to produce small purification systems that include a bleach generator in order to ensure that any biologicals in the water produced are rendered harmless.