Scalable and Affordable Fluoride Removal (SAFR)

Designing an ultra-low cost and scalable solution to remediate groundwater fluoride contamination in resource constrained regions.

Photo of Katya Cherukumilli
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Global Water Labs

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $10k - $50k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1 - 10

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City


Location(s) of impact

Kenya: Kibera India: Nalgonda

Website (still under construction)

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

200 million people worldwide are at risk of detrimental health effects (lower IQ, mottled enamel, irreversible crippling skeletal fluorosis, anemia) by relying on groundwater with excess fluoride as their primary drinking water source. Naturally occurring fluoride contamination has been reported in many regions including India, China, Rift Valley, and northern Mexico. Existing defluoridation technologies have proven to be unaffordable, ineffective, or difficult to use in impoverished regions of developing countries.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

The Scalable and Affordable Fluoride Removal (SAFR) process uses bauxite, a globally abundant aluminum-rich ore, as an adsorbent to remediate high groundwater fluoride concentrations to the safe drinking water standard. SAFR’s advantages include its ultra-low ¬cost, use of locally-sourced material (bauxite), ease of operation and maintenance of treatment plant without highly skilled labor, and significant elimination of power dependencies and carbon emissions. Global Water Lab’s mission is to provide affordable drinking water at the community scale to underserved populations through innovations in technology, business models, and educational programs. A potential initial pilot site is Nalgonda district, one of India’s poorest districts with 81% of the population working as agricultural laborers in rural regions. 65% of Nalgonda households use untreated groundwater as their primary drinking water source, resulting in approximately 10,000 residents being crippled from skeletal fluorosis.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

SAFR was developed, tested, and patented at the University of California, Berkeley during the primary applicant’s graduate career. This defluoridation method has not yet been licensed to any entity for commercialization and additional field-testing and prototyping are necessary components of scaling up and translating SAFR from lab to field. Field-testing is expected to take 6-12 months, allowing for Global Water Labs to successfully implement and distribute the SAFR process within a 2-3 year time frame. Long term desired outcomes include increased access to affordable, high quality drinking water and greater community awareness/adoption of SAFR. Success indicators include number of households purchasing treated water, volume of water sold directly/delivered, increases in employment, fluoride removal efficiency, waste production/disposal, and measured health benefits (e,g., reduction in prevalence of anemia/fluorosis using weight, urine, and dental health as proxies).

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

We won over $70,000 through social entrepreneurship awards including BigIdeas@Berkeley, DOW Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge, Venture Well, and Bay Area Global Health Innovation. In 2016, SAFR won the R&D 100 award given to the top 100 inventions of the year. These funding sources and access to analytical tools at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory supported the development of SAFR. Global Water Labs aims to build a micro-entrepreneurial community-scale water treatment plant and develop local funding/institutional partners (industry, government, academia) to ensure SAFR’s scale, promotion, and replication. To launch field testing, prototyping, and scaling in the upcoming years, we expect 90% of our budget to be met by grants and 10% by corporate contributions.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Lab-tested defluoridation technologies are ineffective because they are expensive and dependent on intensive skilled labor (reverse osmosis, activated alumina (AA)), locally unavailable and culturally inappropriate (bone char), or unreliable (rainwater dilution). In contrast to AA filters used commonly by middle classes, SAFR is 20-50 times cheaper in annual per capita cost. SAFR is also effective at fluoride remediation, technically feasible in a rural setting, and operated/maintained easily.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

As a graduate student at Berkeley, I developed and patented the Scalable & Affordable Fluoride Removal (SAFR) method under the guidance of my PhD advisor, Dr. Ashok Gadgil (Senior Scientist at LBNL). After reviewing various drinking water contaminants, I focused on fluoride contamination in resource-constrained regions because it was the root cause of a major global health crisis. This challenged my expectations as fluoride is often added to drinking water at low levels to prevent cavities. However, prolonged exposure to fluoride exceeding drinking water standards can cause low IQ, anemia, and irreversible bone deformities. This geographically widespread problem had cultural relevance to me because 66 million people in India, my native country, are at risk. In Oct. 2016, I became interested in establishing Global Water Labs and finding local field partners to scale up and implement SAFR.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others

Attachments (1)

Cherukumilli et al 2017 ES&T.pdf

Peer-reviewed Publication in Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) about SAFeR process


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Your work is really relevant and promising. Cogratulations. Best regards.

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