Engineering Purity: Organic Water Filtration in Kenya

Engineering Purity: Organic Water Filtration in Kenya

Eight hundred million people lack access to clean water, and 3.4 million of them die each year because of it.

As 2015 recipients of the President’s Engagement Prize, Adrian Lievano, from Miami, Fl., and Matthew Lisle, from Bryn Mawr, Pa., will design and implement a sustainable rainwater catchment and purification system in Kimana, Kenya using inexpensive and locally sourced materials.

Lievano, who focused on engineering with applications in human medicine, and Lisle, whose passions lie in robotics and climate change, are both recent graduates of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The summer after their junior year, their mutual friend Daniel Brooks, then a senior biology major at Penn, returned from a summer spent in Kimana on a Project for Peace grant. Brooks told them how the Kenyan community’s 300 members all depend on a single, distant well for their drinking water, and how children are often forced to miss school, walking miles every day to carry water back to their families.

Brooks also presented what may be a natural solution to this problem: the moringa seed. He explained how the seed, which comes from a tree that grows natively in the region, was being ground up by the locals and used to filter bottles of water. After doing some research, Lisle and Lievano discovered strong scientific evidence to support the moringa seed’s water purification capabilities.

Lisle and Lievano will work in collaboration with the NGO Hands on the World Global (HOWGlobal) to design, prototype, and implement a rainwater catchment and filtration system that incorporates the moringa seed as a biodegradable and sustainable alternative to industrial purification agents.

“We’ve already done a proof-of-concept test, which shows that using these materials, we can reduce E.coli by over 85 percent and coliform bacteria by 95 percent,” Lisle says. “We expect those numbers to get better as we refine our design.”

After spending the first half of the year honing their design, during which time they’ll take a short trip to Kimana to begin establishing ties with the community, they will return to install the filtration system and provide ongoing community support and education.

With the assistance of HOWGlobal, they also plan to travel throughout the region, meeting with community leaders and identifying other sites that could benefit from similar systems.

If you’re going to pick a place to do a project like this, you’ve got to come to Penn. Penn is the place,” says Lisle.

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