Australian students invent chip packet water purifying system

Australian engineering students have invented a simple water filter using chip packers and glass tubing, in response to the 1.5 million deaths around the world caused by polluted water every year.

A team of students at the University of Adelaide in South Australia has come up with a super-cheap and easy way of putting together a water treatment system. Led by engineering lecturer, Cris Birzer, the students came up with a design that includes half a cylinder of reflective material – made from a foil chip packet – and when the light hits this cylinder, it is directed at a 1.5-metre glass tube.

“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,” Birzer told Natalie Whiting at ABC News. “The metallised plastic used for chip wrappers works exceptionally well for what we need it to do. We’re basically taking a bit of rubbish that no-one else wants and using that to reflect onto a glass tube.”

The device can easily be scaled up for higher quantities of water, the user just needs to add as many chip packets and glass tubes as required. The team says the system can treat almost 40 litres of polluted water in four hours, and would cost about $67 to make.

While the team sees applications for the invention in developing countries all around the world, sights were initially set closer to home, working directly with people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to come up with a solution that included readily available materials.

“We wanted to avoid what is known as the ‘white man solution’, so we worked with [support agency] 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,” Birzer told ABC News, adding that the idea was not to make a thousand of these devices and send them to PNG, but rather to give the locals the design so they can make it themselves. “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.

According to John Fenech from ChildFund, contaminated water is currently a huge problem in Papua New Guinea, with two-thirds of the population lacking proper access to safe, clean drinking water. Reportedly 900 children die annually from diarrhoea caused by polluted water and sanitation issues.

The Adelaide students’ design is now being trialled in selected communities in Papua New Guinea.

Learn more here

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