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University to develop 3D printed water treatment for developing world

Researchers at the University of Bath are using 3D printing to develop an efficient, portable and low-cost continuous system for the treatment of contaminated drinking water in poor rural communities in developing countries.

Dr Emma Emanuelsson, University of Bath, with a 3D printed prototypeDr Emma Emanuelsson, University of Bath, with a 3D printed prototype

The research team want to produce safe, clean drinking water for poor rural communities who don’t have access to a centralised water supply.

Using 3D printing enables the researchers to generate rapid prototypes and test them using a unique indoor solar light that can replicate pure sunlight in the lab. This testing will enable a better understanding of the optimal design of this household water treatment (HWT) system to most efficiently produce safe drinking water.

Despite the success of the Millennium Goal 7C - to halve by 2015 the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation - there are still 650 million people across the world without safe water. Existing methods for purifying water include boiling, chemical disinfection and filtration, all of which have numerous disadvantages. Currently, one of the simplest ways to treat microbial contained water is by using what is known as a “SODIS Bottle” (SOlar DISinfection), a simple plastic bottle which deactivates microbes through a combination of heat and UV light from the sun.

One limitation of the SODIS bottle is the lack of current knowledge of the time needed to decontaminate water which can depend on a number of factors. It is also a short term solution due to its limited durability.

Th University of Bath project is building upon the principles of the SODIS bottle to design a simple, portable household water treatment (HWT) system capable of producing clean drinkable water sufficient for a small group of individuals.

The device will have no breakable parts, require no power source and will have greater durability than any other current HWT. The researchers predict that each device will be able to produce up to 35 litres of clean drinking water a day.

Each device is envisaged to be made out of biodegradable plant-based plastic (PLA), weigh approximately 3KG and cost just £5 per unit with over 10,000 units being produced per year, ideally by locally trained workers.

These attributes will make it ideal for supplying water both in rural areas suffering from microbial contaminated water, as well as in crisis situations such as population movements due to war, and during times of natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding.

Africa is seen as the key beneficiary of the technology, and Malawi will be used as a case study to test the prototype devices in the field.

Project lead and Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Dr Emma Emanuelsson, said: “The potential to develop a cheap, durable and portable device which can provide those most in need with safe, clean drinking water is an exciting prospect.

 

“The key strength of this project is its simplicity and the multi-disciplinary approach taken. Our skills and expertise complement each other, combining maths with engineering with social sciences will ensure we develop an effective water treatment device that is both useful and accepted in rural African communities.”

The project will involve a multi-disciplinary team at Bath including mathematicians from the Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation (BIMI), researchers in Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering, and a team in Social and Policy Sciences who will work on the applications of the technology.

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Treatment
Tags: 3D printing , water treatment

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