Students Create Water Treatment System From Empty Chip Bags

What most of us think of as garbage is proving to be useful in a simple, cost-effective water treatment system.
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What most of us think of as garbage is proving to be useful in a simple, cost-effective water treatment system.
chip bags

Photo Credit: Flickr/Haris Nadeem

A team of students from the University of Adelaide in Australia have designed a water treatment system that is both simple and efficient, and it's made with an item you can find in the snack aisle. IFL Science notes that the team used plywood, glass tubing and empty chip bags, and the entire system costs about $60. Even better, it doesn't need to be assembled by specially skilled engineers, which makes it a great option for providing clean water in remote areas.

According to the CDC, 1 in 9 people, or 780 million people, don't have access to improved drinking water sources. This can expose people to a slew of diseases, many of which are fatal.

The UofA scientists teamed up with ChildFund Australia to learn more about the water problems communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) face. They are known to collect rainwater in large tanks, which can easily get contaminated.

“Our priority was to develop a system with, and not just for, the end-users,” said Dr. Cristian Birzer, the lead researcher. “We wanted something where we could provide design guidelines and let the local communities build and install their own systems using readily available materials that could easily be maintained and replaced.”

The team first built a water treatment system using high-quality materials to use as a basis for design. They then built a rudimentary version using inexpensive materials. The end product is a system that holds water in a glass tube and guides sunlight toward it with a half cylinder lined with reflective foil chip packets. UV-A radiation from the sun stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species in the water, which can damage the DNA of pathogens. The system is able to effectively reduce high concentrations of E. coli to undetectable levels in under 30 minutes.

“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,” Birzir said.

The entire system costs just $67 and can clean more than 10 gallons of water in four hours. With several systems working together, villages could meet their water demands.

ChildFund will soon begin trials with the water treatment system in PNG. If all works out well, they will roll out the concept to be used throughout the country. 

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