Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability

Project Status
June 08, 2011
The Grainger Foundation
  • Cupful by cupful, the people of Bangladesh and other developing countries are being poisoned by their drinking water from tube wells. Tens of millions of Bangladeshis—as much as a quarter of the total population—use tube wells that provide water containing 10 to 50 times the amount of arsenic considered safe. It is unclear how many tube wells there are in Bangladesh, but since 1998, an additional four million have been installed.

To help solve this massive public health problem, the National Academy of Engineering with the generous support of The Grainger Foundation, offered Grainger Challenge Prizes of $1,000,000, $200,000, and $100,000 for first, second, and third place for the design and creation of a workable, sustainable, economical, point-of-use water treatment system for arsenic-contaminated groundwater in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and other developing countries.

The primary purpose of the prize competition was to accelerate the development and dissemination of technologies to enhance social and environmental sustainability for the benefit of current and future generations. A complementary goal of the prize competition is to increase awareness among the U.S. engineering community of the importance of designing and engineering for sustainability, particularly in an international context, and to encourage and showcase efforts by U.S. engineers to bring sustainable technologies to the marketplace and to promote green design philosophies.

The Challenge
The specific goal of this competition was the development of a household or multiple household scale treatment system to significantly lower the arsenic content in groundwater from tube wells as found in many developing countries. The system must have a low life cycle cost, be technically robust, reliable, maintainable, socially acceptable and affordable, be capable of being largely manufactured and serviced in a developing country, and must not degrade other water quality characteristics.

Arsenic contamination has affected millions of people, in rural Bangladesh, and also in eastern India, Nepal, and several other countries. In Bangladesh, the arsenic is an unintended consequence of an aggressive international program to control the spread of cholera (prevalent in surface waters) by installing thousands of tube wells. Efforts to solve this problem have been under way for a decade, but no single solution has been implemented on a widespread scale. Laboratory tests have been conducted on technologies to determine if they are affordable, robust, and meet local water quality standards for a treatment system that can be used either in individual homes or several homes located adjacent to a single tube well.

The contested ended in February 2007.