“I’m acutely aware of the challenges society has in finding reliable water supplies of an acceptable quality, whether they’re for human consumption or industrial needs,” says Doug Brown ’75.
Some of those challenges can be addressed by technologies that are commercially available right now—and that Brown has helped implement through two companies, Seven Seas Water and Quench USA. Last year they merged into Aqua-Venture Holdings, and Brown serves as founder and CEO. Quench USA provides filtered drinking water to more than 45,000 companies across the US. It does so using coolers with built-in filtration technology that purifies tap water on the spot—no more environmentally wasteful plastic jugs or the truck traffic involved in deliveries. Last year Brown donated 50 Quench units to MIT to help the Institute become more ecofriendly. Seven Seas Water, on the other hand, operates large seawater desalination and wastewater treatment plants internationally.
But many water challenges remain, especially for people in developing countries. Commercially available desalination systems, for example, can be too expensive. “They’re simply not economically viable in a lot of situations,” says Brown. That’s why he and his wife, Deborah, recently made a major gift to support research on new techniques for purifying water by John Lienhard, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Food in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
One of Lienhard’s many projects, for example, is a promising alternative to currently available desalination systems. Among other advantages the technology, known as humidification-dehumidification (HD) desalination, can use an energy source readily available to many third-world countries—the sun—rather than fossil fuels. The system components are also easily able to withstand difficult operating conditions.
Deborah Brown, who has worked in luxury real-estate sales, remembers how inspired she and Doug were upon meeting Lienhard, who is also director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. “He gave us a synopsis of the different technologies and research [the lab has] in the pipeline, as well as his goal of connecting the different efforts at MIT so that “there can be a consolidated and cohesive approach to bringing this work forward,” she says. “I think we both just really felt that this is the guy who can make that happen.”