• Water treatment device made with crisp packets. Photo credit: SBS newsWater treatment device made with crisp packets. Photo credit: SBS news

University of Adelaide students develop low cost drinking water treatment device from crisp packets

Mechanical Engineering students and staff at the University of Adelaide have designed a low-cost drinking water treatment system from crisp packets and glass tubing.

The treatment system is suitable for use in remoter communities in countries such as Papua New Guinea, where previously rainwater was collected in large tanks and drunk untreated.   "Worldwide, 780 million people still don't have access to safe and clean water for drinking, cooking or washing," says Dr Cristian Birzer, Lecturer in the School of Mechanical Engineering, who supervised the students with Dr Peter Kalt.

"Consumption of untreated water exposes people to a range of contaminants including faecal-borne pathogens. It's estimated that 1.5 million people - and 90% of them children - die every year from consuming untreated or contaminated water."

The system makes use of UVA radiation direct from the sun to kill pathogens in the water in a continuous feed facility that can be made from improvised materials.  In total the system costs AU$67 to build, from materials that are readily available in Papua New Guinea.  However the students have not patented the device, meaning the potentially life-saving design will be freely available to anyone.

It’s been tested with the pathogen E. coli, and found to successfully reduce high concentrations to undetectable levels in just 30 minutes.  "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," says Dr Birzer.

The project was sponsored by Santos and recently won the students the National Student Environmental Engineering and Sustainability Award from Engineers Australia's Sustainable Engineering Society.

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