Snapshot: MSR’s Decades of R&D in Water Treatment

 MSR has long-held a deep commitment to advancing water treatment methods for users around the world. Here’s a brief look at how MSR’s humble efforts to improve backcountry water treatment technology resulted in legitimate, game-changing innovations that have been used by communities around the globe.

MSR MiniWorks Ceramic Water Filter

1990s: MSR’s ceramic water filter revolution

By 1990, MSR had established itself as a trusted manufacturer of high-quality, rigorously tested gear for outdoor adventurers. That year, the team sought to develop a better water filter for backpackers and began researching filtration technologies.

The team knew that ceramic offered the performance benefits they sought. But traditional methods for producing ceramic filters were cost prohibitive. With a little ingenuity, the team began researching the extrusion of ceramics—a process that would greatly reduce the cost.

After several years—and to the surprise of industry skeptics—MSR created a high-performance and reliable extruded ceramic water filter.

MSR MiniWorks

MSR patented its filter under the name “Marathon Ceramics” and incorporated it into its new MiniWorks water filter. Today, the MiniWorks device is still celebrated by outdoor adventurers worldwide. In 1998, MSR’s Marathon Ceramics filter was recognized by the American Ceramics Society as one of the “most important ceramics innovations of the century.”

2000s: MSR innovates for developing countries

MSR continued to work with extruded ceramics and realized the process allowed for various-sized filter tubes. Combined with its low cost, this meant extruded ceramic was a viable solution for many applications—including for use in developing countries.

Excited at the notion of their technologies creating positive change, MSR expanded its company mission statement to include: “provide affordable first-world-quality water to people in developing countries.” The mission resonated deeply with MSR employees.

MSR’s initial global health product was simple. It placed a hose at the end of a Marathon Ceramic filter to create a siphon-like water filter for low-income households. Called the e-Water, it successfully provided 300 people in Sudan with water for several months in the spring of 2000. But the design ultimately proved too fragile to ship routinely and was shelved.

Still, MSR’s reputation as a water treatment R&D hub was growing. In April 2000, MSR signed a two-year contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to research ceramic’s ability to remove viruses. With MSR’s in-house microbiology lab, the team had the capabilities to do just that.

Around the same time, MSR hired principal scientist Tim Oriard, who brought with him a passion for global health work. Under his leadership, the lab team continued to research ways to adapt MSR’s outdoor technologies for low-cost global health solutions. In partnership with the Gates Foundation and local NGO PATH, multiple ideas were developed and successfully tested around the world, while simultaneously spurring further innovations back home.

Purifier hollowfiber for water treatment

2008: The Hollow Fiber Revolution

The whole idea of filtration is based on a fixed pore size, engineered to limit what can and can’t pass through. This, in turn, puts a hard limit on how fast water can get through the filter media. Ultimately, the surface area of a filter translates loosely to the number of pores and more pores equals a faster flow rate.

This is the magic behind Hollow Fiber filter media that we first introduced in our HyperFlow™ Microfilter back in 200x. While most filter media to-date had been one large cylinder, Hollow Fiber uses hundreds of tiny individual cylinders, greatly boosting overall surface area of the media for unprecedented flow rates. The HyperFlow delivered (and still does!) flow rates of up to 3 liters per minute, in a pump so small, it marked a turning point in how people would filter water in the backcountry forever.

water treatment with guardian purifier

2015: Guardian Purifier

Continued research and refinement of our Hollow Fiber filter media allowed us to remove the pump altogether and create gravity-driven filtration, but the real game changer came with the advent of the world’s first portable Hollow Fiber purifier, allowing chemical-free treatment of water, even in worst-case scenarios where viruses are present. The Guardian Purifier’s revolutionary designs retains high flow rates, is self-cleaning and remains the ultimate, portable water treatment solution to create safe water, anywhere on earth.

MSR’s technologies have come a long way since we first began experimenting with extruded ceramics, but our quest to bring reliable water treatment to people around the world remains unchanged. Thanks for being a part of our journey.

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Updated. Originally Published November 12, 2018.

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