Feature Stories

Providing Inexpensive and Reliable Methods for Water Purification

group of four students in lab

L-R: Colleen Lyons, Mary Jo Kirisits, Maddie Edwards and Sabee Grewal are creating technologically simple solutions using locally available materials to help protect human health in rural Africa.

Apr. 9, 2014

Although water access in Sub-Saharan Africa has improved, the region is behind in comparison to every other developing region across the globe in terms of water and sanitation coverage.  However, inexpensive methods for water system designs using local, easily accessible supplies can help these communities become healthy as well as self-sustaining.  

CAEE researchers have partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to create economically feasible and technologically simple solutions to clean drinking water problems by creating a basic charcoal filter that can be easily replicated by Sub-Saharan African communities lacking in resources.

burnt coffee can with wood shavings inside

By engaging Ntisaw, a village in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the researchers began a case study to test the effectiveness of charcoal made from Eucalyptus tree sawdust as a filter media to remove contaminants in water.  

During the spring 2014 semester, Colleen Lyons, an environmental and water resources engineering graduate student and National Science Foundation fellowship recipient, will assess the efficiency of low temperature conversion of Eucalyptus sawdust to charcoal while in Ntisaw. She will also construct a pilot-scale filtration system off of a public tap stand to test the effluent water quality.

Under the supervision of Associate Professor Mary Jo Kirisits, Lyons identified and trained her own research team, which includes civil engineering junior Maddie Edwards. She is the recipient of a Legacy Campaign fellowship and will have the opportunity to present her findings this fall at the Engineers Without Borders regional conference.

The team needed a field-appropriate microscope to examine the water before and after filtration. Team member Sabee Grewal, an electrical engineering undergraduate, developed the solar-powered bright-field/fluorescence microscope.

If you would like to learn more about The Legacy Campaign, please contact Henna Tayyeb.