A technology using a waste product from the coconut processing industry, called cocopeat, improves wastewater treatment in poor countries, according to testing conducted by researchers at RTI International. RTI International, with funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, developed and tested low cost secondary wastewater treatment systems using cocopeat. The system takes up less space than other technologies, is easy to assemble and is inexpensive to operate.
“When comparing space requirements, cost to install and ease of operation, the cocopeat technology is significantly better than other technologies that are applicable in dense urban areas,” said David Robbins, senior water and sanitation specialist at RTI and the project’s director. “Not only can the technology drastically improve the sanitation in coconut-producing regions around the world, it will also help with economic and workforce development in those countries. Building this technology provides jobs and uses a product that previously was just thrown away.”

Cocopeat is the dust that remains when the fibers (coir) are removed from ground shells. The material is especially resilient in the wastewater environment. Initial trials showed that cocopeat produces good results in the reduction of organic matter and suspended solids found in domestic and commercial wastewater.

RTI collaborated with Can Tho University in Vietnam; Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) in Indonesia; Muntinlupa City in the Philippines; and Duke University in North Carolina to test various aspects of the technology. RTI researchers experimented with a variety of mixes of commercially available cocopeat and fiber particles to determine the best mix for long term functionality.

Cocopeat trials were conducted by RTI researchers at two public schools in Muntinlupa City, Philippines just outside of Metro Manila. “The location provided an opportunity to provide real sanitation improvement for hundreds of children, while demonstrating and promoting the technology,” Robbins said.

Analysis of the water discharged from the system shows that reductions in organic matter, solids and pathogenic bacteria approached 90 percent, comparable to results for constructed wetlands and sewage lagoons.

Now that testing is complete, RTI has applied with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Phase 2 of the project, which will begin the commercialization of the technology by developing modular units that can be rapidly deployed in a variety of urban settings.

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