Deshawn Henry, a Civil Engineering sophomore at the University of Buffalo, spent his summer developing a solar lens using inexpensive supplies from a hardware store that can clean 99.9% of pathogens in a liter of water in about an hour. The research project is practical and inexpensive, with the potential to be widely implemented and save lives.
Over one billion people around the world lack consistent access to clean water, leading to the death of a child under the age of 5 every single minute. Many water treatment options are expensive.
The device itself has a rather humble appearance, with a six-foot-tall frame of 2x4s topped with a lens constructed of plastic sheeting and water, which focuses down onto a treatment container for the water. This simplicity of design and the inexpensive nature of the building materials means that many living in impoverished areas would be able to obtain the technology and provide clean water for their families.
The lens is able to magnify sunlight and heat a liter of water to about 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit in about an hour. As the sun changes position in the sky, the treatment container for the water needs to be adjusted in order to stay under the focal point of the lens. This heating process eliminates about 99.9% of pathogens found in the water, leaving it clean and drinkable.
“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries,” Henry said in a press release. “Millions of people die every year from diseases and pathogens found in unclean water, and they can’t help it because that’s all they have. Either they drink it or they die.”
The design of the lens came with a bit of trial and error. While more water would be able to magnify more sunlight, the thicker plastic needed to hold the heavier amount of water was more opaque, which diminished the effect. Thus, it was important to strike a balance and find what would be most practical in the system. However, the issue of water loss is one that has not been made entirely clear. A lid could potentially diminish the efficiency of the lens, but leaving it off could result in more water evaporating than can be used to effectively clean the water.
“I have seen how intense research activities can inspire UB students and educate the next generation of innovators,” added James Jensen, the professor who supervised Henry’s project over the summer. “Deshawn’s work would allow a family in sunny regions to treat drinking water without having to expend energy or rely on imported technologies.”
Though the summer semester is over, Henry is not giving up on his project. Currently, his design that cleans a liter per hour is only enough to meet about one third of the demand for a family of five. He hopes to continue working and develop a larger lens that would be able to clean the amount of water needed.