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Making every raindrop count with the ML Foldable Tank and Zeramic Filter

For most students, all that is needed for a school day is a bag of snacks, lunch, books and other basic school materials. But in Lawak Langka Elementary School (LLES) in Mangatarem, Pangasinan, the checklist used to look quite different with the addition of five liters of water that each student needed to carry to school each day.

The five liters is used only for handwashing and toilet flushing. Despite this heavy burden, the amount still falls below the total water requirement for pour-flush toilets alone, which ranges from 8.5 to 11 liters per regular student per day.

In Sapang Elementary School (SES), the daily morning routine also reminds students of their own water supply struggles. Each student takes turns filling out a 200-liter drum with water that serves for the emergency use of over 200 students and staff in the school. Their water is harvested from a piped deep-well that channels water from the nearby Manleluag Spring but the water source is only open for distribution from 8 am to 5 pm daily. Teachers also pitch in P100 per month out of their own pockets just to maintain the school’s access to its daily water reserve.

Today, days are much lighter for these students and teachers who can now focus on learning following the installation of the ManLithos (ML) Foldable Tank at their schools as donated by the developers of the technology themselves.

The ML Foldable Tank [UM No.2-2023-050830] is a rainwater collection and storage system. Using pipes, it transports water from rooftops into foldable, lightweight and modular water tanks that can carry 1,000 liters of water per day, just enough to relieve Lawak Langka students of the daily burden of bringing their own water for hand washing and flushing and to ease Sapang students of their worries over water supply insufficiencies.

Parents and teachers of SES receiving the clothes and groceries from during the medical and building mission of Love Pal Singapore. At the time, the ML tank was also installed and donated by Manly Plastics and Lithos Manufacturing. Aside from SES, the LES and Malabobo Elementary School in Pangasinan also received ML tanks for free. Photo by Lithos Manufacturing. 

“Ngayon hindi na namin problema ang tubig na aming ginagamit kasi nandiyan na lang sa aming mga silid-aralan ang mga faucet at maaari na kaming kumuha sa foldable water tank na nasa labas lang ng aming silid aralan (Now, collecting the water we need is no longer a problem because the faucet is right there in our school and we can get straight from the water tank that is just outside),” said SES Teacher Aida Matabang.

Safer with the Zeramic filter

The ML Foldable Tank also exceeded expectations with its guarantee of improved quality of stored rainwater with its Zeramic filter technology. Aside from the LLES and SES, the UN and UNICEF estimates that 55% of schools in the Philippines lack access to a safely managed water supply, many from remote and logistically challenged areas.

Team Man-Lithos coming up with the preliminary designs of the conveyance and Zeramic filter at the Manly plant in Malabon. Photo Courtesy of Lithos Manufacturing

Harnessing the power of nanotechnology, the three-step process [UM No. 22023050827] of the Zeramic filter [UM No.22023050826] neutralizes acid in rainwater, absorbs heavy metals and filters out traces of organic materials to standard lab levels that make the water acceptable for washing and other sanitation purposes.

The ML Foldable Tank is a collaboration between Malabon-based plastic solutions maker Manly Plastics Inc. and the Department of Science and Technology while the Zeramic Filter was developed jointly by Manly Plastics and Bulacan-based startup Lithos Manufacturing.

Aiding war-stricken areas

Engr. Eleanor Olegario, founder of Lithos Manufacturing, recalled the first time the technology was deployed for field trials. It came to the aid of Marawi at the height of the 2017 conflict that lasted five months and left many families stranded.

“To address issues on water security for isolated communities, a water storage was designed to bring more tanks into the Marawi region at a lower transport cost,” Olegario said, noting that the supply of 20 ML foldable tanks that can carry an aggregate 20,000 liters emerged as the most cost-efficient solution compared to bringing in over 100 units of blue plastic barrels or 20 IBC (intermediate bulk containers) tanks, which can store the same amount of water but with a larger volume space compared with the ML Foldable Tank.

“The beneficiaries from Marawi eventually ordered more units through the initiative of the DOST. During the pandemic, hospitals and schools also ordered water storage installed in common areas for hand washing,” Olegario added.

Since its conception in 2017, Manly Plastics and Lithos Manufacturing have sold over 50 units of tanks and 10 units of tanks with Zeramic filter to various schools, non-profit organizations and companies for their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Teacher Unay from the SES filling the barrel with murky water sourced underground. The stored water is used as emergency reserve for the school of over 200 students. Photo by Lithos Manufacturing

“The success of the ML Foldable with Zeramic filter is rooted in our goal of serving water-stressed remote and isolated communities where electricity is not available to power electric-motor-driven pumps for sourcing underground water. Serving these communities with the conventional alternatives, such as rigid plastic barrels and IBC tanks, means incurring higher logistic costs given the bulkiness of these items,” said Olegario, who said they are onboarding more local government units (LGUs) to adopt the technology and make water more accessible to communities.

According to the World Health Organization, one in 10 Filipinos don’t have access to improved water sources.

Towards drinking water

In 2023, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. sounded the alarm of a crisis in clean water and urged agencies to expedite all projects relating to the resource. Several projects can run to the tune of hundreds of millions of pesos to cater to several towns. Lithos hopes to have a share in providing a quick solution to the crisis by elevating its technology to make stored rainwater potable, especially in remote areas where logistics and infrastructure could be a challenge.

“We’re just waiting for the rainy season to test the potability of stored rainwater using our enhanced Zeramic filtration system,” Olegario said, adding that several private companies, civil society groups and LGUS like Valenzuela, Navotas and Tarlac are already lined up with a total of 10 order requests once the potability test generates positive results.

If successful, the ML Tank developers also forecast a boost in orders that could push demand for their product not just in the Philippines but in other countries like Malaysia where talks had already been initiated with another company that could further unlock their technology’s value.

Scaling up with IP

With the Philippines being the fifth biggest producer of rainwater in the Southeast Asian region, Lithos estimates a $16 billion potential market for rainwater collection technologies in the country.

Eng. Olegario of Lithos Manufacturing posing with officials of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines after winning third place at the 2023 Socially Relevant Technologies Competition. Photo by Lithos Manufacturing.

So far, Manly Plastics and Lithos have received $20,000 in total grants to further improve the technology. Olegario said their robust IP portfolio has “opened our doors” to grant funding opportunities such as concept prototyping and venture financing programs.

She encouraged fellow inventors to protect their IP rights “to establish a more competitive edge in the market, attract investors and create opportunities for collaboration with other innovators.” More importantly, she called on inventors to make strategic use of their IP assets to drive significant advancements and positive change.

“We should embrace our creativity, protect our innovations and leverage our IPs to make a meaningful difference in society,” Olegario added.

Manly Plastics and Lithos Manufacturing hope to raise $500,000 to $1 million to scale up its production to 2,000 units a month as it targets to serve 85,000 remote communities and schools in the country by 2025.

The technology is the grand winner of the 2023 Philippine Water Challenge by the USAID Safewater Project. It also won third place under the Shell Livewire Accelerator Program and in the 2023 Socially Relevant Technology (SRT) Competition held by the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL). The technology is a recipient of grants under the Intellectual Property Rights Assistance Program (IPRAP) and the Grants and Assistance to Leverage Innovations for National Growth (GALING) program by the DOST’s Technology Application and Promotion Institute.#(Janina Lim)

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