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Oklahoma State University

OSU team headed to Washington, D.C. to present clean drinking water solution for Honduras

Tue, April 22, 2014

Watch video at OstateTv

A team of engineering students from Oklahoma State University will participate in the USA Science & Engineering Festival April 26-27 in Washington, D.C. The team will present a point-of-use water treatment system they’ve developed that’s delivering clean drinking water to more than 2,000 people in northwestern Honduras.

The work, which initially began through OSU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, was supported by a $15,000 grant from the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, a design competition where college students can benefit people, promote prosperity and protect the planet by designing environmental solutions that move toward a sustainable future.

Seis de Mayo, the town where the students focused their efforts, has a poorly maintained water system with lots of contamination. “It was so bad that the locals wouldn’t even name their kids until they were three or four years old,” says Eric Lam, a civil engineering graduate student leading the project.  “We knew we had to do something.”

The students designed an improved biosand filter to remove contamination.  Originally invented in the 1990s by a professor in Canada, biosand filters have been implemented all around the world.  However Lam says the typical filters are built using steel molds, which can cost thousands of dollars.  The students’ design includes locally sourced materials, such as wood, in place of the steel.  The filters are now being built in country, by locals for about $25 each.

“The P3 project involved two primary components,” says Greg Wilber, a civil engineering associate professor overseeing the work.  “The first was to improve the construction process to make it simpler and more reliable for the local builders.  This includes improvements to the wooden molds as well as the process used to sieve filter sand.  The second aspect of the project included laboratory investigations, which focused on determining the effect that dissolved organic carbon (DOC) has on the effectiveness of the filter.  This was motivated by the fact that some of the source water available in Honduras is high in DOC.  We wanted to investigate if biosand filters receiving this water could still be made to operate effectively.”

The team has also been trying to help local entrepreneurs start businesses constructing and selling the filters in Seis de Mayo and nearby villages in the northwestern parts of Honduras. 

At the festival, the team will be competing with about 40 other teams for an additional $90,000 in phase two funding to continue the work.