MICHIGAN CITY – “Everybody’s got a problem, and more and more are having a problem with water.”

That’s the rationale Phoenix Pure founder and CEO Rick Lutterbach gave for his company’s focus on making bulk, purified water for disaster areas. Their latest unit, the Guardian 4000, is capable of purifying up to 4,000 gallons of contaminated water a day. And the company has the technology, he said, to purify up to 500,000 gallons in the same amount of time.

“So we can replace (the municipal water for) large areas, high population areas, when the municipal water systems go down, which they do,” he said.

The longtime Michigan City resident, and 2005 recipient of the Sagamore of the Wabash – the highest honor bestowed by the Indiana governor on a citizen – said the goal of his Valparaiso-based company is to provide purified water to disaster areas without lugging thousands of pounds of bottled water.

He also hopes to eventually open a plant in Michigan City.

On May 2 in Indianapolis, Phoenix Pure held a demonstration with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to prove Lutterbach’s claims for the Guardian 4000, purifying an estimated 1,000 gallons of water out of the canal near the Indiana Historical Society.

“Water is a diminishing product or quantity throughout the world and it’s getting worse,” Lutterbach said. “And Homeland Security came to us (2 or 3 years ago) and said we need a better way of providing water to disasters and asked us if we could develop something that creates bulk, purified water.”

The Indianapolis event took place before a crowd of about 75 people, Lutterbach said. It lasted about 6 hours, with roughly 1,000 gallons of contaminated water drawn from the canal and purified.

“And because of the enormous rains, there was just about everything in that water,” he said. “Bacteria, heavy TDS – they had a number of things. And it went very, very well.”

According to a Phoenix Pure press release, the mobile Guardian 4000 utilizes the company’s Hybrid Purification Optimizer. This is a proprietary method that uses high-energy magnets, purification resins and other filtration media to eliminate PFAS, E-coli, virus colonies and bacteria. It is also capable of desalinating water.

The unit, which sells for $187,000, is available with a 25-kilowatt generator. The only other thing it needs is a source of water.

“If we can’t find a place, we will drill for water,” Lutterbach said. “Water that will come up is not necessarily pure at all. So we will drill a shallow well and bring that up and we will purify it.”

Lutterbach said the Guardian 4000 also has a data logger with more than 80 sensors monitoring water quality. If it processes the water and it’s not pure, it automatically processes it again, he said. The unit can also be monitored remotely.

And he makes some impressive claims of what the technology is capable of doing.

“Everything is dependent on water,” he said. “Schools have lead in their water. We can remove the lead and you don’t have to take down the school. We can basically purify the water … The chemicals in fertilizer might be good for crops, but if they get into the water table, they basically can contaminate irrigation fields. We can recharge aquifers, which are deposits of water throughout the world.”

But he said the reason Homeland Security became interested was the inherent weaknesses of bottled water.

According to Lutterbach, water bottles are not a good answer for disaster relief. Not only because, in bulk, they weigh thousands of pounds and have to be lugged across great distances in sometimes mountainous areas, but also because of the cost.

“(Homeland Security) buys hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bottled water for their disasters,” he said. “… the cost of bringing it in by ship, bringing it in by airplane … by the time it gets there, that bottle of water that originally cost $1 for 16 ounces can be as high as $7 or $8 a bottle because of the cost of getting that water down to the people. We can make water for 3 to 5 cents per gallon, but we actually can get it down to about 2 cents per gallon.”

Lutterbach is not new to this business. In the 1980s, he was part of Michigan City's Control Resource Systems, which specialized in hazardous waste safety and removal, and air purification. He also holds several patents.

His segue into Phoenix Pure, founded in 2015, came due to his concern for water.

“I was intrigued by what I thought was going to be the biggest problem in the world,” he said. “And that’s going to be water.”

So how many people does 4,000 gallons a day help? According to the Mayo Clinic’s website (mayoclinic.org), men need, on average, about 3.7 liters of drinking water a day, and women about 2.7 liters (a gallon is about 3.78 liters). This doesn’t include water for washing or cleaning.

Lutterbach said he expects to move a lot of units, and eventually expand his business to Michigan City.

“I’ve got this crazy notion I’m going to change the world,” he said, “and that’s kind of a childish way to look at it, but I’ll never give up. So right now, we’re going to sell a lot of machines, and I’m going to put a plant here in Michigan City.”

For more information on Phoenix Pure, go to phoenixpure.life.

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