Advanced water filtration solutions from 3M
BY SEAN O'KEEFE
ATER IS THE ESSENCE OF LIFE. Inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless and nearly colorless, water is the main constituent of the Earth’s hydrosphere and the fundamental fluid of all living organisms. Though it contains no organic nutrients nor provides any calories, water is the most vital compound on the planet. As a natural resource, we all use water to hydrate our bodies, clean our clothes and cook our food. However, despite its universal presence in our lives, water remains little understood. On the consumer level, most of us think of water as either drinkable or not, a consideration that primarily comes down to confidence.
“Drinking water is a generic term for water that meets a standard of quality that is free from potentially harmful levels of contaminants and wholesome enough for human consumption,” says Hemang Patel, a Senior Application Engineer at 3M. A chemical engineer with more than 20 years of experience, Patel is proud of his contribution to helping solve the world’s water equation to the benefit of us all. “Globally, water is one of the biggest environmental concerns. At 3M we are dedicated to applying science to life and water filtration is an arena where our work makes a difference in everyday lives all around the world.”
"3M’s solutions include under-sink filtration systems, water treatment systems and whole house filtration. Within all three of these product lineups, we offer good, better and best solutions to provide consumers both choice and greater confidence.”
Hemang Patel, 3M Senior Application Engineer
Patel is part of a team of 3M product engineers focused on water filtration systems for both residential and commercial environments where the rewards of the work are inherent. Though the water coming into our homes has been disinfected by local municipalities, there are a lot of other concerns that aren’t related to how safe the water is to consume but rather a matter of perception. Even though in the U.S. we can be certain that in almost all cases water coming from a tap or shower is microbiologically safe for consumption, there are certain qualities in water that may make us apprehensive. Those include its taste, its smell and its color. If any one of those factors feels off, consumer confidence in quality and safety quickly drops; a consideration that sends many of us in search of an alternative source.
“Consumers have come to expect certain qualities in water in terms of its wholesomeness,” says Patel whose work at 3M has included both extensive laboratory experience and consumer outreach. “Water quality for most Americans generally means crystal clear, odorless, tasteless and without causing any of the stains or spots that can show up in a sink or bathtub.”
Patel points out that there are three main components of tap water in our homes that raise concerns for consumers. The first is the amount of chlorine in the water. Water utilities typically use chlorine as a disinfectant to kill microorganisms so that it is safe to drink. To ensure that effort is successful, chlorine levels between two and three milligrams per liter added to water make it microbiologically safe for consumption. Excess chlorine is where most of the off taste and odor comes from. The second source of potential contamination is the aging piping and plumbing infrastructure that brings water to our homes.
“In many places in the United States the plumbing infrastructure is more than 40 years old and relies on cast iron pipes and copper fittings,” shares Patel. “Within these systems, sediments built up over time. This is where undesirable coloration or a rusty taste that we don’t enjoy can be introduced.”
Finally, Patel points out that the calcium and magnesium that exist naturally in many water sources also contribute to water hardness, which is responsible for scaling in pipes, water heaters and water-fed appliances like dishwashers or coffee makers. Here the effect is a deterioration of the equipment’s efficiency. As scaling builds up, the water heater or coffee maker won’t heat up as quickly as it did when it was new.
“3M’s solutions to these problems fall into three categories,” continues Patel. “These include under-sink filtration systems, water treatment systems and whole house filtration. Within all three of these product line ups, we offer good, better and best solutions to provide consumers both choice and greater confidence.”
3M’s under-sink drinking water filters use absorptive technology to reduce sediment and the taste and odor of chlorine from drinking water. Under-sink filters can also include a membrane for fine dirt reduction or heavy metal sorbents for lead reduction. To improve hard water situations, 3M’s water treatment systems include water softeners that remove calcium and magnesium and replace them with sodium, which is relatively non-scaling. 3M’s whole house filtration systems include filters that incorporate non-woven media that reduce sediment as well as the taste and odor of chlorine.
“In terms of a whole house water filtration, a system is installed to intercept and filter the water before it is distributed within the home or building,” says Patel. “In homes that have a basement with access to the in-bound plumbing, a whole house filtration system can be added after the fact. In new construction, of course, it’s best to plan upfront and install it as the house is being built.”
Though a whole house filtration system is best installed by a licensed plumber, 3M has developed whole house and under-sink water treatment products that allow the homeowner to replace the filter media quickly and easily. Depending on incoming water quality, the system selected, and water use, most of 3M’s filter components require changing every six to twelve months, a process that was once a little messy.
“The previous water filtration technology used a drop-in filter which required the homeowner to remove the filter bowl using a wrench, handle the dirty filter and clean the filter bowl using soap and water themselves,” says Patel. “3M’s latest products feature Sanitary Quick Change systems that are specifically designed to make routine filter replacement simple without having to touch the wet filter media. Just a quarter turn and the filter can be disengaged, removed and replaced very easily.”
While access to cleaner water is something all of us want, Patel and the 3M team want readers to understand the environmental benefits of in-house water filtration don’t stop at aesthetics.
“Environmentally, the gain here is more than just cleaner water,” continues Patel. “Every second more than 1,500 disposable plastic water bottles are consumed in the United States. When a homeowner installs a water filtration system, the big win for the environment is reduced reliance on bottled water in many forms.”
3M’s AP Easy Complete Undersink filtration system has a 750-gallon capacity, which is equivalent to 5,600 plastic 16.9 oz water bottles. 3M’s FF100 filtration system for larger homes or commercial buildings has a 6,000-gallon capacity, the equivalent of 45,000 plastic bottles. While a whole house water filtration system may not be quite as exciting to the custom homeowner as a home theater or a car lift in the garage, the team at 3M believes that it is a worthy investment in quality of life.
“Water is fundamental to our lives,” finishes Patel. “Cleaner, clearer and better-tasting water is easy to get behind. However, just as importantly, the environmental impact of reducing reliance on bottled water is a win, not only for the homeowner and their family but for everyone else as well.”