DAYTONA BEACH — A backpack with a water purifier system that can be deployed during natural disasters is one of the latest technologies created by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students that won them national recognition.
A team of eight engineering students and three professors were one of the 15 winners from universities and colleges across the country in the 2012 People, Prosperity and the Planet national competition sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Embry-Riddle team will receive $90,000 to continue improving their design, including reducing the weight and size of the backpack to make it even more portable.
The winners were selected from 45 teams and after two days of judging during the 8th annual National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. last week. The original field of applicants for the competition was 165 across the country, Embry-Riddle officials said.
EPA selected the projects based on the potential to “provide innovative, cutting-edge sustainable solutions to worldwide environmental problems,” EPA officials said.
The backpack, which currently weighs 58 pounds, works by connecting a hose from the backpack to a source of water. The backpack, made of plastic, also has two folded solar panels, a battery, a solar charger, three filters and a pump.
Yung Wong, Embry-Riddle student team leader, 22, of Iselin, N.J, said the solar panels hook up to the charger and then the battery runs the pump, which pushes the water through the filters.
The system is run mainly by the battery, which is re-charged by the solar panels.
The water purifier can be deployed in less than 30 minutes using easily understood instructions, converting standing stagnant water into safe drinking water for up to 1,500 people per day, officials said. The device operates on solar power and will run for 72 hours without sunlight if deep-cycle batteries are used.
The university received interest at the competition from several groups, including the U.S. Army, who wants to work with the school in the future on the technology, a professor involved in the project said.
“Before we went to D.C., we didn’t really see the potential for it. When we were there we got tremendous positive feedback,” said Wong, who is graduating in May with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and will continue working on the project as a graduate student. “I think it’s going to go far. We’d like to create a business out of it and have started the process to put in a patent for it as well.”
The goal is to reduce the size and weight to about 40 to 45 pounds.
“It’s important because of how many people it can impact and help,” Wong said. “It can help in disaster areas and it can help the military so they don’t have to keep shipping in water.”
The cost possibly could be about $3,500, but that price is still being worked out, according to Marc Compere, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
Compere said the earthquake in Haiti inspired the portable solar-powered water purifier. The university and students designed and installed a solar-powered water purification system for an orphanage in Haiti last year.
“We went there and we saw how (important) a solar water purifier would be. We needed it and we drank water from our own purifier,” he said.
It also was a big undertaking to take the system on a plane to get it to Haiti, he said, so they thought of designing a smaller backpack system.
Another water purifier system will be built by Embry-Riddle students in August with a university in Port-au-Prince that lost its building because of the earthquakes.
The Embry-Riddle team members involved in the backpack system in addition to Wong were Johnathon Camp of Crystal River; Kyle Fennesy of Richmond, Texas; James Holmes of Riegelsville, Pa.; Neil McCalla of Oxford, St. Mary, Jamaica; Shavin Pinto of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Dean White of Brandon; and Civil Engineering student Jared Coleman of Lake Worth. They were advised by Embry-Riddle mechanical engineering Professors Marc Compere and Yan Tang and civil engineering Professor Mark Fugler.
The team took home two other awards from the expo — the 2012 EPA P3 Student Choice Award bestowed by the other teams, and the U.S. Army’s Net Zero Award for Water, Waste and Energy.