Keeping Time With Water, Filtered H2O For Sale | August 27, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 35 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 35 | p. 48 | Newscripts
Issue Date: August 27, 2012

Keeping Time With Water, Filtered H2O For Sale

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: water, clock, drinking water, electrolytic cell, water filtering
Credit: Jack Llewellyn-Karski
Photo of Molecule café water cocktail infusions.
Credit: Jack Llewellyn-Karski

Drink it up: Molecule serves filtered water and “cocktails” infused with supplements dispensed from burets.

Thanks to catchy advertising jingles, most TV viewers know that a Subway foot-long sandwich is only $5.00, and like a good neighbor, State Farm is there for you. The Newscripts gang just heard the following science-y jingle that, although not famous, is extremely catchy:

Simple H2O makes it go, ticktock
Bedol Water Clocks
Good-bye batteries, hello H2O
Good-bye carbon footprint, hello H2O

Even better than the lighthearted tune (listen to it in a video at is what it advertises: a digital clock that runs solely on water. No additional source of power needed—plug, potato, or otherwise.

Inside the droplet-shaped clock is an electrolytic cell. The plastic divider separates two different metal electrodes, which are connected to the clock display circuitry. Pouring ion-laden water into the clock jump-starts a flow of electrons from one electrode (the anode) to the other electrode (the cathode), powering the clock.

The clock-maker, Bedol What’s Next, says the water needs to be replaced every six to 12 weeks, or whenever the display begins to fade. But don’t worry about having to reset the time every couple of months: An internal memory chip will keep the time while you run the faucet and refill.

While some people are reducing their carbon footprint by powering clocks with water, others are increasing it by shunning tap water to quench their thirst.

Credit: Jack Llewellyn-Karski
Photo of filtered water being poured into a Molecule bottle.
Credit: Jack Llewellyn-Karski

According to the sustainable development research organization Worldwatch Institute, nearly 165 million L of bottled water was consumed worldwide in 2005. In the U.S., water bottles contributed to the more than 4 billion lb of polyethylene terephthalate that ended up in landfills in 2007.

Many consumers avoid H2O direct from the public water supply because of potential contaminants and a less-than-crisp taste.

Enter Molecule, a store whose mission is to provide a “cleaner and more environmentally friendly alternative to tap and bottled water.” Last month, co-owners Adam Ruhf and Alexander Venet opened the water café in New York City’s East Village to sell meticulously filtered water.

Although Ruhf won’t go into details of the café’s patent-pending filtration process, he tells Newscripts it involves eight stages of technology—including reverse osmosis and ultraviolet treatment—that are intended to remove everything from heavy metals to bacteria and organic compounds to treatment by-products. According to a July 18 Wall Street Journalarticle featuring Molecule, the filtration system cost the café $25,000.

The avant-garde café has received much positive and negative attention, Ruhf says, but he thinks it “speaks to the value of this kind of business in an era of climate change and polluted water sources, and to the anxiety about clean water here and abroad.”

A lot of the flack, Ruhf says, has come from the café’s $2.50 price tag for a glass of filtered water. But customers praise Molecule for promoting refillable containers and community accessibility: Fill up a canteen for $1.00 or get up to 5 gal for $10. The café will also deliver water to your home via bicycle.

“Our philosophy is clean water, clean containers, clean delivery,” Ruhf says.

Molecule’s menu also includes “cocktails” made with filtered water that is infused with vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. “Strong Bones,” for instance, contains calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. And “Immune” features 5-hydroxytryptophan, a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin; a concoction of traditional Eastern medicinal supplements; and extracts from four types of mushrooms.

Newscripts readers can judge for themselves the sustainability of filtering water and then adding vitamins and minerals back in. Good-bye carbon footprint, hello H2O!


Sophia L. Cai wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to

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Michael A. Hauser (September 5, 2012 8:55 AM)
Shouldn't the digital clock that runs on water be an "electrochemical" cell. An "electrolytic" cell requires a power source to drive the nonspontaneous chemical reaction. Clearly, this clock is set up to use the energy from the chemical reactiona and no additional energy is provided to cause the reaction. I would not be surprised if the wrong term mentioned in the article was taken directly from the product packaging, but the author should have noted the error.
Sophia Cai (September 6, 2012 3:21 PM)
Thanks for comment - you're completely right. The error was mine, not the manufacturer's, so we are in the process of printing a correct and updating the website. Best, Sophia

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