Article courtesy of| September 15, 2014 | | Shared as educational material
Adelaide engineering students have developed a simple water treatment system using foil chip packets and glass tubing, hoping they can save lives in the developing world.
Globally, polluted water is blamed for an estimated 1.5 million deaths annually.
John Fenech from the support agency ChildFund said contaminated water was a serious issue in Papua New Guinea, where the simple device was now on trial.
“At the moment we’re seeing about two-thirds of the population without access to proper safe, clean drinking water,” he said.
“And we’re seeing about 900 children die every year from diarrhoea, which is caused by unsafe water and unsafe sanitation as well.”
Dr Cris Birzer, an engineering lecturer, said he hoped the University of Adelaide students had come up with a way to achieve a big health improvement for a small outlay.
“The final design is effectively half a cylinder of reflective material and all the light that hits that reflective material is directed at a glass tube, which is about a metre-and-a-half long,” he said.
“Inside that glass tube we just have water that’s flowing at a fairly slow rate and a particular part of the sunlight spectrum, the UV-A radiation, goes into the water and reacts with the water to produce oxygen radicals and these then kill the pathogens.”
Dr Birzer said the engineering students did their work with the people of PNG in mind, so were keen to use readily available materials.
“The metallised plastic used for chip wrappers works exceptionally well for what we need it to do,” he said.
“We’re basically taking a bit of rubbish that no-one else wants and using that to reflect onto a glass tube.
“We wanted to avoid what is known as the ‘white man solution’, so we worked with ChildFund in PNG and therefore they knew what the locals needed, they were in communication with the locals and they could tell us what was available or what wasn’t available and we could tailor a solution for them.”
Simple design anyone can use
Dr Birzer said the university was offering a design rather than a finished product.
“The final design is something that anyone can make, so it’s not a product we’re giving, it’s just a concept, a design that anyone can make and therefore they own it – it’s theirs,” he said.
“The system can successfully treat close to 40 litres in four hours and the beauty is that it’s designed to be modular, so more modules can be added for greater quantities of water.”
The cost of a simple device is estimated at $67, which Mr Fenech said was a crucial advantage.
“Things in Papua New Guinea are quite expensive,” he said.
“When you live in a rural community and you’re cut off from the main economy, the idea of having low-cost solutions to problems such as poor access to clean water, that’s very, very important.
“ChildFund is a big fan of any ideas that keep costs down.”
The design has been supplied to ChildFund for it to conduct the trials in PNG.
“We’re very, very excited about the potential it shows and we’re looking forward to some results come out of it,” Mr Fenech said.
The developers and support agency said they were keen to eventually roll out the concept to rural communities across PNG.
The project recently won the students an environmental engineering award from the Sustainable Engineering Society.