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A silver solution

A factory of miracles
A factory of miracles
Michael Sherer

What began as an experiment in a back yard fourteen years ago has grown beyond one man’s wildest dreams. Phillip Wilson, now 46, and then inspired by the genius of Fernando Mazariego’s invention of a clay-based water filter, began baking his first clay filters in a small artists’ kiln. The kiln wasn’t perfect but the clay was, and found only in Rabinal, a rural town more noted for its’ citrus crops. The town, located in Guatemala’s central upland province known as Baja Verapaz, has proved to be the springboard for a world-wide revolution in sustainable technology.

A simple miracle, a simple solution
Michael Sherer

Guatemala, the size of the US state of Tennessee but with over twice the population is an example of a world-wide problem, the lack of clean water. It has been estimated that over 75 % of the water sources in Gautemala are polluted, a ratio and common problem shared by many developing countries. The primary problem is simple: developing and providing a cheap means of delivering clean drinkable water. The EcoFiltro is all that and more, with one moving part, the spring-loaded faucet.

Some six years later the next factory was a vast improvement over the singular artists’ kiln and was located in a corner of the Wilson’s large coffee farm near Antigua. The three pottery molds were kept busy, the brick-lined kilns were fired by surplus wood from the farm and the sawdust and clay were mixed in a nearby shed. The process requires a mixture of the special clay from Rabinal, 6 1/2 hours away and only pine sawdust will do. Once coated with a solution of colloidal silver, the filter acts as an impervious membrane to all microscopic organisms that attempt to pass through.

The success and the increasing demand for water filters brought awards from around the world: in 2012 alone EcoFiltro won the Nokia Challenge in Finland, as well as the Sustainable Brand of the Year contest held in San Diego, California. The present state of affairs is no different: teams from Harvard, Germany and Switzerland are frequent visitors to the new factory, where they learn the simple mechanics of production. The new factory, located a few miles south of Antigua, is a giant step forward.

A light metal roof covers the production lines and four gas-fired kilns provide a perfect temperature for baking the clay. Racks of nearby pots and filters dry and are water tested for leaks and porosity. What was a production run of some 2500 filters a month at the previous factory is now approaching ten thousand per month. And there’s a month’s worth of backorders. A container load of water filters leaves for Africa this week and Mr. Wilson leaves for Spain next week, to continue the message of pure, inexpensive water for all.

The factory also has their own soccer/futbol team, for which they won many trophies over the years until they were banned from play by local teams. The charge? They won too often and by too many points. Set aside from the present acre or so of the existing new plant now is their own private soccer field. A visiting group of German entrepreneurs challenged the local EcoFiltro team last week and promised to pay for the post-game beers. The Germans paid up: final score? 16-2, advantage EcoFiltro.

They’re winners in more than one sense of the word: the world awaits their unique solution and it’s on the way, one country at a time. Fernando Mazariegos provided the idea and Phillip Wilson has provided the ways and means. Clean water? A simple but vital concept, delivered cheaply and environmentally sustainable, using basic materials of clay, sawdust and a silver solution: maybe they should change the name to Miracle Filters, because for some five million people this year, it is a daily miracle.