Apr 25, 2011

University of Arkansas Students Create Electricity-Free Treatment System

Project won award in WERC's Environmental Design Contest

Chemical engineering students at the University of Arkansas have designed a system that can provide 3,000 gal of clean drinking water per day without the use of electricity. Their design, which could be used to treat water in remote or disaster-stricken areas, recently won the Intel Innovation Award at WERC’s Environmental Design Contest.

The students designed and assembled a system that includes a sand filter that can be submersed in a water source, a treadle pump that is operated by two people and pumps the water through the system, a carbon filter to provide pretreatment filtration and a disinfection system that kills bacteria using either bleach or ultraviolet light.

Their system uses only human power and solar energy to produce enough clean water for a small community in a matter of hours. The total cost of the water treatment system ranges from $550 to $1,500, depending on the disinfection method used. One of the students, Jennifer Herrera, is working with the College of Engineering and Honors College to transport the system to a community in the developing world that could benefit from it.

“This is the first time a team from the University of Arkansas has won the Intel award,” said chemical engineering professor and Honors College faculty member Roy Penney. “The judges consider the entire project and they chose the most practical one. The treadle pump design was a very significant technical achievement, and the students demonstrated that it can be built and used by unskilled labor.”

WERC is a consortium of agencies, companies and academic partners that try to address environmental education and technology development needs. Based at New Mexico State University, the consortium conducts an annual contest among student teams that design solutions for environmental problems.

The Arkansas student team, which is led by Penney, includes Honors College students Nathan Bearden, Allen Busick, Howard Heffington, Jennifer Herrera, Tristan Hudson, Ryan Lee and Tim Meyer.