OSU students create man-powered devices to purify water

January 23rd, 2007

Taken from the G-T:

By MARY ANN ALBRIGHT
Gazette-Times reporter

Mechanical engineering students at Oregon State University didn’t have to worry about hitting the gym Thursday night. They worked up a sweat pedaling bicycles and turning hand cranks to power water purification devices created for a design course.

Hundreds gathered in the Kelley Engineering Center atrium to watch 24 teams unveil their prototypes and compete to see whose design could produce the largest volume of potable water.

Food coloring signified pollutants in the water. Using only human mechanical power, students had to bring the water to a boil, then condense the steam into purified water. The clean water would be colorless, proving the device worked.

The challenge was inspired by the shortage of drinking water in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Stills such as the ones OSU students created would have allowed these residents to produce their own clean water, event organizers said.

After “a couple long, sleepless nights,� junior Roy Thomasson and his teammates turned to Occam’s razor, a principle of economy, deciding the simplest design probably was best.

They used a stationary bicycle to power a motor, which provided electricity to a heating coil taken from a coffee maker. This heat brings water to a boil — 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the water evaporates, the steam travels through a copper coil, where it condenses into a purified liquid that’s deposited into a collection basin.

The teams had access to metal and other materials in the mechanical engineering department’s shop, but had to pay for everything else themselves. Thomasson, along with teammates Taylor Streng, Dustin Amberg and Adam Aschenbach, kept costs to $80. The most expensive element was the used motor, which set them back about $50.

Teams had one hour to produce as much purified water as possible. Thomasson’s team planned to trade off pedaling the bike every three minutes.

The class assignment dovetails with this year’s design challenge posed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The organization hosts an annual competition that draws college students from around the globe.

OSU will select two designs to enter into the regional competition in the spring, with hopes of progressing to the international round in fall 2007.

OSU has taken first place at the regional level for the past 10 years, and won the international competition in 2001, Ge said.

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