Humanitarian at Heart

As a mechanical engineer working with Hewlett Packard, Dr. Robert Marquez had the opportunity to travel around the world. It was during this time that he became more aware of societal inequalities that afflict the world in general. This became a turning point in his life and he made the decision to become more involved in helping people in need. His travels also awakened in him the obvious need to clean the environment.

A great opportunity arose for Dr. Marquez’s new found mission when, in the mid-1990s, he was sponsored by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to work on the Brick-Kiln Emission Project. His Native American blood makes him naturally interested in the environment, so he was immediately drawn to the project and began to search for solutions to the deficiencies in the brick-making industry of the developing world.

Understanding and considering the target-problem areas, which were composed of an impoverished population; he overcame the challenge of limited resources. Ironically, all Dr. Marquez needed was manpower and four of the most basic ingredients known to man; the earth, water, air, and fire. “Creating a high-tech mechanical design is not hard; it’s much more challenging when all you have is the earth, the sun and manpower,” said Dr. Marquez. His efforts resulted in the “MK” design, a successful innovative dual-kiln system which consisted of two main performance improvement factors over the conventional kiln.

The first improved factor of the MK design is the better control of combustion. The second, is the use of clay as a filter, where the effluent heat and energy are recycled. The first prototype system was composed of a filtering condensation section between the two kilns where pollutants are absorbed onto the clay filter on one side of the oven. The practical system, called MK-2, being used today is composed of two identical kilns where the bricks in the second kiln are used as a filter, while the firing takes place in the first. When firing is complete, bricks are removed in the first kiln, and it is reloaded with unfired bricks, then, the process is reversed and repeated.

Brick-making is an industry, but it is also a way of life for many people and thus a major problem all over the world. Until the development of this new system, the ancient process of brick-making using the traditional kiln resulted in emissions of particulates, gaseous pollutants and ash into the environment causing serious health hazards and creating a negative impact globally. According to sources, toxic soot particulates have been reduced by 80-99% along the U.S.-Mexico border, in the Cd. Juarez traditional kilns, as a result of Marquez’s new kiln design.

Not only does the MK reduce pollution, fuel and firing time, it also allows burning under various climatic conditions, is less labor intensive and maintenance is also minimized. Dr. Marquez points out that a very dangerous task was also eliminated. With the traditional design, a person would climb on top of the hot kiln to place a cover on the areas that have been fired and to determine the overall progress of the firing. Furthermore, the MK design has significantly improved health issues and the quality of life for many people by providing sustainable employment.

Dr. Marquez was contacted by Potter’s for Peace (PFP), a nonprofit U.S. organization, who became interested in the MK kiln design and affiliated technology. After Dr. Marquez shared his kiln technology, he collaborated in the production of the Potter’s for Peace ceramic water purifiers (CWP). He became inspired to improve the system with his own design using the same concept of the CWP, a clay filter. In his laboratory, Dr. Marquez designed a mold using PVC tubing for the clay which is made of sifted clay from his backyard, sifted sawdust and water. “It’s as simple as kids playing with mud,” explains Marquez. The clay is then formed and let out to dry for a couple of days. The firing of the clay and sawdust makes it porous enough to allow the water to drip through the filter. He finalizes the process by “painting” on a diluted solution of colloidal silver on the clay filter. This low-tech, low-cost, water filter is proven to remove dirt and kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. The clay candle water filter is a much easier method to manufacture and ship. It’s also more durable and requires less maintenance than its ceramic counterpart, the CWP, which has been approved by the World Health Organization and the United Nations with the ultimate objective to provide safe water to marginalized communities worldwide. Dr. Marquez’s clay water filtration method seeks not to re-invent the wheel, merely to improve it.

The clay candle design (CCD) water filtration method has become one of Dr. Marquez’s main priorities. The objective is to take potable water into communities that are known as colonias on the U.S. side of the border. Then, expand the benefits of his new clay-water filter, in conjunction with his non-profit organization PublicUs, CDC, to a global community.

Studies show that every day 5,000 children die due to unsanitary water, and every year there are 1.7 million deaths due to diarrhea caused by unsafe water (WHO 2005). “People throughout the world bathe, wash clothes and drink from the same water source,” said Dr. Marquez. “This solution would offer people a simple and inexpensive way to clean their water for drinking.” The clay candle water filter is an efficient sustainable method to help communities after natural disasters that affects communities’ drinking water resources. “Instead of sending thousands of bottles of water, which will ultimately pollute the earth, we can teach people of limited resources to make their own water filters.”

During the 11th Annual McDonald’s Hispanos Triunfadores awards celebration last September, Robert O. Marquez PhD. was honored as one of six Hispanic leaders in the El Paso and Las Cruces area. In conjunction with the Spanish-media giant, Univision, Robert Marquez was recognized for his fruitful accomplishments in science and for his low-technology solutions to fundamental health and environmental concerns worldwide. The positive impact he has made for humanity and the environment is a truly inspiring story of one person’s vision; to leave this world a little better than how he found it.

Today, Robert Marquez is an affiliated faculty at New Mexico State University with an impressive background. As a chemist and engineer, he has undoubtedly contributed immensely to society. Thanks to his efforts, major drinking water problems continue to be addressed and eliminated, and pollution emission problems have significantly recorded positive changes in the air quality with his MK kiln design.

Born and raised in Deming, NM, Robert Marquez lived a very varied, yet humble and economically limited life. He embraces his Apache-Mexican roots and life’s experiences, which have taught him never to give up on a journey or any dream. There is so much more to say about Robert O. Marquez, but suffice it to say that he is indeed a humanitarian; a truly caring and an amazing human being who continues to dedicate his life to helping others.

By Sara G. Holguin

Winter 2011
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