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Drip for drop, BYU students make clean water cheaper, simpler

BYU students engineered a cheaper, simpler system that purifies water and is a good fit for poor, remote villages where clean water sources are scarce.

Their work was part of Capstone, a two-semester course in the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology that pairs student teams with real-world clients. The client for these students laid down this challenge: Build a high-quality water purification system that works and won’t break the bank in a small economy.

Inspired by key components of reverse-osmosis systems already available, the group fabricated a system that:

- cuts manufacturing costs 76 percent

- keeps costs below 1 cent per gallon

- exceeds World Health Organization quality standards

- simplifies a complex array of controls to just four knobs

- still manages to pump out 500 gallons per day.

“Here they are as undergraduates — most of them with no real work experience — but yet, they worked together as a team and brought a number of creative ideas to the table,” said Kevin Cluff, founding manager of the client firm, H2O For Humanity, L3C. “Overall it was a very positive experience.”

The BYU system incorporates the same technology used to filter most bottled water, but it is unique as it is designed for small, rural communities. Although smaller and simpler, the BYU system effectively removes bacteria, pesticides, salt and many harmful contaminants just as well as larger models that serve thousands of people.

Sized for 250 people, the BYU system lowers investment and maintenance costs. What this means, said Chris Welton, a student on the team, is “Our system is something that could be micro-loan affordable.”

Welton also explained that the system’s pump can run on solar power or batteries, allowing for smooth operation far outside cities where power lines often work intermittently.

By the end of 2011, Cluff said H2O For Humanity hopes to install 250 units in India — 100 of which will likely be BYU’s “lite” version. In fact, two of BYU’s systems will be installed in India later this month.

For Capstone students Welton, Dallas Freeman, Jamie McBeth, Kirtis Kennard, Matthew Divelbiss, Scott Mains and Tyrel Fitzpatrick, seeing any water filter will remind them of this project and the BYU experiences that launched their professional careers. They were coached by Perry Carter, associate professor in BYU’s School of Technology.

The Capstone course began at BYU in 1990 with just four projects and has expanded to include approximately thirty industry-sponsored projects each year with a total of 545 completed projects over the past twenty years. The program has worked with more than 200 companies from 25 states and 11 different countries with ongoing international efforts.

Writer: Nat Harward

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