Innovation: Clean water without tears: British inventor hits pay dirt with low-chlorine system for disinfecting pools

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The Independent Online
STINGING eyes, dry skin and faded lycra could be eradicated by a technique for disinfecting swimming-pools without adding chemicals.

The Poolmatic system also eliminates the time-consuming manual methods of testing water and provides a printed record of quality measurements to demonstrate compliance with health standards.

Bacteria levels in swimming-pools relate to use and temperature - more people equals more germs, and warmer water makes bacteria grow faster. This means the amount of chlorine needed to disinfect pools varies. Another complication with outdoor pools is that the ultraviolet part of sunlight breaks down the chlorine.

Pool water has to be tested every few hours for bacteria and chlorine levels, and for alkalinity and acidity (chlorine is most efficient when the water is at pH 7.3). And this procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes.

When a Poolmatic system is installed, the pool is treated with 3g of salt (sodium chloride) per litre of water. The system takes automatic readings of pH, bacteria levels and active chlorine.

But instead of having to add bulk chemicals, it uses electrolysis to convert the salt in the water into chlorine, producing just enough to meet demand. Readings are taken every 10 minutes so that chlorine production is very finely tuned. The pool water stays clear because bacteria do not get a chance to build up to levels that make it cloudy.

Poolmatic is the brainchild of Richard Morrison, an aeronautical engineer who spent more than 20 years in the food industry, researching and marketing techniques for preserving food.

Like many other inventors, Mr Morrison has struggled to get financial backing for his idea. 'Inventing the system was a doddle, financing it was the nightmare,' he said.

After the banks turned him down, there were offers of finance from the US, Japan and France. But 'in each case the would-be investors wanted 51 per cent of the company and I didn't see the point,' he said.

The breakthrough for Poolmatic has come in France, which has the largest market in Europe for swimming-pool equipment and some of the strictest regulations on pool cleanliness. Mr Morrison recently signed a six-year distribution deal with France's largest pool company, Carre Bleu. So far about 200 systems have been installed - by Mr Morrison himself; he says he is now 'the best plumber in France'.

Trial systems are operating in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, which should produce more business in the December/January season.

The first Poolmatic system in the UK will be installed in August at the Spitalfields public pool in the City, which opened last month.

David Turner, managing director of Playgate, which runs the pool, says he decided to buy Poolmatic despite having a new, non-irritant bromine disinfectant system, because of the higher water quality it provides. Apart from freeing staff time for other duties, Poolmatic will end the pounds 100 per week bromine bill.

Mr Morrison uses four subcontractors on the Isle of Wight, where he lives, to produce the components for Poolmatic. He and his son put the units together in a converted pigsty. However, he has private backing to move into more lavish premises early next year.

He is now investigating whether the Poolmatic system could be adapted to disinfect water for free-range poultry, where water contamination can be a source of salmonella.