For designing a low-cost device to automatically disinfect water with chlorine before it flows into the homes of people in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a team of 5 students from Stanford University was awarded the ASCE Sustainable Development Award at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) Award Competition in Washington, D.C., April 18 – 19.
The EPA P3 Award Competition is a 2-phase team contest. In the 1st phase, interdisciplinary student teams compete for $15,000 grants. Recipients use the money to research and develop design projects during the academic year, then produce a project report and a Phase II proposal. At this year’s 9th Annual Sustainable Design Expo featuring the EPA P3 Award Competition on the National Mall in Washington D.C., all the teams submitted their projects, which were judged by a panel of experts convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The judges will recommend to EPA which teams should receive the EPA P3 Award and the opportunity for Phase II funding up to $90,000; an announcement is expected on April 24.
Stanford students Amy Pickering, Keegan Cooke, Yoshika Crider, S.M.ASCE, Nabil Mansouri, and Elizabeth Marshman, under the direction of faculty advisors Jenna Davis and Steve Luby, earned the award for their project, entitled Community-Level Disinfection for Dhaka, Bangladesh. The objective was to develop an innovative community-scale technology to disinfect drinking water in Dhaka that is low cost, requires minimal behavior change, and is easily scalable.
“Sixty one percent of people who live in Dhaka slums use community-shared hand pumps to get their water; however, the water from these hand pumps is full of E. coli and other diarrhea-type agents,” explained Cooke.
Added Crider, “The typical approach [in treating water] has been at the household level; people would just be given some bleach and then told to add it to the water. Studies showed that is just not working, people are not using these products, and people are not drinking safe water.”
During Phase I of the project, the students designed an automatic chlorine dispenser called a chlorinator and evaluated both its performance and acceptance in Dhaka slum compounds.
“We’ve designed this little device that attaches to the hand pump and injects it with chlorine to treat the water,” said Cooke.
Working with their partner organization, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh known as the icddr,b, the students were able to field test the chlorinator in Dhaka and establish proof-of-concept for this technology. The team found that the device delivered a safe chlorine residual and significantly improved water quality, as compared to households with no device and those receiving a point-of-use water intervention. In addition, the devices functioned over a period of 4 months and households expressed high satisfaction.
“Our results indicated that the technology significantly improved water quality and that a community-scale approach may be more effective than a traditional point-of-use approach,” concluded Crider. “Keegan and I are both going back to Dhaka this summer to work with icddr,b to try and figure out how to implement these technologies sustainably.”
“We really don’t want this to be a hand-off solution to the community,” says Cooke. “If we are able to get an EPA P3 Grant [which includes $90,000], it will allow us to test different aspects of a business model to really make this project sustainable.”
This is the 7th year that ASCE has presented an award at the EPA P3 Competition. The ASCE Sustainable Development Award, which includes $1,000 for the school and a certificate for each of the team members, recognizes the project which best represents 3 criteria: use of local raw materials, simplicity of design, and widespread impact on quality of life for the developing region.
Serving as judges were Dirk Bouma, P.E., M.ASCE, chair of the Southeast Technical Advisory Committee with Engineers Without Borders-USA; Robert Field III, P.E., M.ASCE, senior manager with ASCE’s Structural Engineering Institute; Rumana Riffat, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, associate dean for Academic Affairs with the School of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University; Alex Rosenheim, P.E., LEED AP BD&C, M.ASCE, construction manager with Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. and chair of the Sustainability Committee of ASCE’s National Capital Section; and Michael Sanio, ENV SP, CAE, M.ASCE, ASCE’s director of sustainability and international alliances.
“We felt that the Stanford project fit all of the [award] criteria in the best way possible,” says Riffat. “The water disinfecting chlorinator the Stanford team put together is very small, very simple in design and very simple to construct, and can easily be attached to the hand pump; very similar to what you see clinicians use in giving IV’s [intravenous therapy] to patients.
“But what really attracted us to this project is that the students were not only looking at both functionality and the performance of their device but the acceptance in the community as well. And the acceptance is a major part of the equation in designing something like this because you have to look at the local cultures and see if people will accept it. And we felt the Stanford students really went into the Dhaka community to see how the people would use it.”
“The scientific aspect was also very sound because they tested this against the use of Listerine tablets, and they compared that with the use of the chlorinator and if nothing was used. In addition, they developed a business plan to incorporate this in the community, and that is something that is needed for the whole project to be sustainable, because you just can’t install things, leave, and find nothing is functioning anymore; they addressed that aspect of it.”
This year, ASCE also gave 2 2nd place awards and 2 honorable mentions.
The University of Washington’s SQWater: Fog Collection in the Slums of Lima, Peru project and Cornell University’s Stacked Rapid Sand Filtration – A Robust Filtration Process for Sustainable Drinking Water project received 2nd place awards.
Students at the University of Washington experimented with fog harvesting technologies to extract water from the shroud of fog that covers Lima, Peru, from June to December. With more than 9 million occupants of Lima living in slums, without reliable access to clean water, adequate nutrition, and public green space, the SQWater system focused on fog water harvesting technologies that provide water at point of use. Team members Shara Feld, Vera Eve Giampietro, Peter Cromwell, and Gayna Nakajo, under the direction of faculty advisor Ben Spencer, believe that the SQWater system would help people living in Lima’s slum communities adapt to increasing water scarcity, preserve the integrity of the city’s remaining water resources, and reduce air and water pollution due to water production, distribution, and use.
Students at Cornell University developed a low-flow stacked rapid sand filter (SRSF) suitable for providing safe drinking water to small rural communities (1,000 individuals or less), which are common in the developing world. The SRSF, designed by students Kristopher LaPan, Rachel Proske, Nadia Shebaro, and Mihir Gupta, under the direction of faculty advisors Monroe Weber-Shirk, Ph.D., and Leonard Lion from the Cornell University School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, used multiple layers of sand stacked on top of one another, which operate in parallel during filtration and in series for backwash. The filter contains 4 inlet pipes and 3 outlets, creating 6 sand layers. During filtration, influent water flows in through all 4 inlet pipes, enters the separate layers of the sand bed through slots in the pipes, and flows out through the outlets. The fully hydraulic process does not require electricity, and therefore it can operate without the necessity of a reliable electric grid.
Honorable Mention was given to a student team from Pennsylvania State University for designing the HESE (Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship) Affordable Greenhouse, a cost-effective greenhouse kit that uses recycled rice bags instead of greenhouse-grade plastic as a cover, which provides an affordable, easy-to-build greenhouse for sustenance farmers in developing countries. What’s Cooking? Carbon Cook Stoves and Clean Air!, a second project from Cornell University, also earned an Honorable Mention. The team of Cornell students developed a pyrolytic cooking stove, a process that scorches solid fuel without oxygen to produce heat for cooking in rural Kenyan homes.
“EPA P3 is a program that helps young engineering students learn how to protect the environment and protect the economy at the same time. And it helps make the transition from academia to professional work, because it is project work just like you see in the real world,” says Gail F. Bentkover, director of the Technology and Engineering Division, National Center for Environmental Research, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the EPA P3 program. “We feel that even the students here who don’t end up in a career in environmental protection take the skills that they learn at the EPA P3 competition to become the leaders of tomorrow.
“These are the students who are self-starters, they are the ones who manage to go through school and, at the same time, do these wonderful projects, and we are very proud of them.”