Lynn project to clean water using solar power selected from thousands

Lynn students compete against some of the best engineering programs in the country
Lynn project to clean water using solar power selected from thousands (L-R) Sonia Villaverde, Abraham Laznik, Jacqeline DeMarco, Gabriella Wuyke, Frank Lucas

Published Apr. 23, 2013

A project using solar energy to provide clean drinking water designed and built by Lynn University students and faculty was one of a few selected from thousands by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Program to compete in a national competition for $90,000.

Lynn’s solar-powered water cleaning project was selected as one of the 44 out of approximately 2,500 applicants to be awarded the P3 Phase I grant of $15,000 to continue their research and prepare for the P3 Phase II competition as part of the EPA’s 9th Annual National Sustainability Design Expo at the national mall in Washington D.C. on April 18-19. This was the first year Lynn competed nationally (one of only 10 new schools) against internationally recognized engineering powerhouses such as Cornell University, Purdue University and the University of Florida.

The data from the Phase I work will be judged and a Phase 2 $90,000 award will be given to the winning project to help bring it to real world application. Results from the contest will be posted on in approximately three weeks.

"The P3 Phase II competition is the Olympics of sustainability,” Frank Lucas, assistant professor of scientific literacy/environmental studies in Lynn's College of Arts and Sciences and the project’s principal investigator, said. “No matter the result, we are thrilled and honored to be selected among the thousands of projects from higher education institutions to participate. Being exposed to all the other programs and seeing what everyone was doing was a great opportunity for our students.”

Water Purification Project

EPA ProjectThe objective of the Phase I Study is to provide a testable prototype design. The Lynn team’s goal was to design a simple water purification system that could take various sources of water (grey water, pond water and rain water) and process it to meet drinking water quality standards using solar distillation techniques. The results were tested against bottled drinking water sold in Florida. The goal is to provide sufficient drinking water for a home with a family of four (200 gallons per day).

As part of the project, the team studied the Bermuda-Caribbean cistern system (used for hundreds of years) that collects rain water using limestone roofs as drinking water catchments and improve on that design by incorporating solar distillation and cascade filtration to clean the water to drinking water standards. It was built according to the students' design and tested using pond water from Lynn's campus. The quality of processed water produced by this “reused” water system was tested to ensure it meet drinking water standards—specifically focused on the removal of bacterial contamination and the volume of water recovered.

The limited supply of fresh drinking water for the world’s growing population, especially in developing countries is one of the most pressing challenges for humanity. Although, saltwater seas cover much of the surface of the earth, fresh water makes up only approximately 2 percent of the water on earth—and of that, much of this is not clean enough for humans to drink. The estimate of 10,000 deaths per day resulting from poor water sources is mentioned by many sources, and children are the primary portion of the statistic. Millions of dollars have been spent by the World Bank, the Interamerican Development Bank, USAID and others on water supply projects in developing countries.

This project follows the spirit of the university’s goal of teaching active citizenship in the global community. The three-student team who worked on the project are honors students who are earning credit by working on it above and beyond their usual course load: Jacki Demarco, Abe Laznik and Gabriella Wuyke. They came from the classes of Sonia Villaverde, associate science professor in Lynn's College of Arts and Sciences and project co-investigator.

The faculty advised the students and provided feedback. However, the students designed the system, kept track of the measurement data and made the presentation in Washington, D.C. The idea came out of Lucas’ interested in creating clean drinking water and was meant to provide a challenge-based learning opportunity related to sustainability that would also allow Lynn students to compete on a national stage.

The P3 Program is a unique college competition for designing solutions for a sustainable future. P3 offers students a quality hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life. The competition has two phases. For the first phase of the competition, teams are awarded a $15,000 grant to develop their idea. They bring the design in April to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. to compete for the P3 Award and a Phase II grant of $90,000 to take their design to real world application. The grant sustainability topic areas cover six different categories for sustainability issues: Agriculture, Materials and Chemicals, Energy, Information Technology, Water and Built Environment (LEEDS).  Sponsors include the EPA, Engineers without Boarders USA and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The EPA staff were especially supportive,” Lucas said. “Several of their staff took time to talk with us at length about our project and process of the competition. It was a great experience for our students, and the idea is to make this program a multi-year opportunity for Lynn students.”