Solar Water Purifier –

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students building a solar powered water purification unit for an orphanage in Haiti give President John Johnson a progress report during a visit to their lab Monday. (N-J | Sean McNeil)

Water woes

Even before the 2010 earthquakes, residents of Haiti faced a serious lack of clean water. The water and sanitation situation there is among the most dire in the Western hemisphere, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Half of people in Haiti lack access to clean water and only one in five have access to a sanitary toilet.

· Virtually no water treatment facilities are functioning for the general public in the country.

· A cholera outbreak, spread by unsafe drinking water and unsanitary conditions, hit Haiti last October. By December, 121,518 cases of cholera were reported in Haiti, killing 2,591.


DAYTONA BEACH — Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Marc Compere and student Darick Alvarez can still visualize small children in Haiti last year drinking dirty water after the impoverished country was hit by a devastating earthquake.

The trip last summer was part of a project to deliver a solar powered water purification system designed and built by Embry-Riddle students. The image of the children and a woman pulling a rope and container of water out of an open hole in the ground where animals roamed left a lasting impression that has resulted in another, larger system being built that will serve 600 children at an orphanage and school.

Compere, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and six students will deliver the system, install and train people during an Aug. 16-22 trip to Chambellan, Haiti.

The small village is on the southwest tip of Haiti and students will get there by taking an eight-hour bus ride from Port-au-Prince, Compere said. The system is still being tested by students from the university’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers Club, which designed and built it. A well is also being drilled near the Anne Clemande Julien Foundation Orphanage, which has seen an influx of children since the deaths of their parents in the January 2010 earthquake.

Compere said many of the children live with intestinal illness and sicknesses from the water, which was dirty even before the earthquake.

For the students going on the trip, he said, “It’s a huge life experience.”

Alvarez, 23, a junior from Texas who helped build last year’s system, said going to Haiti “changes the way you view things. When you see the kids, it touches you on the inside.”

The new purification system has been paid for through several sources. About $8,000 for the travel costs is coming from the Embry-Riddle President’s Excellence Fund, funded by donations.

Embry-Riddle President John Johnson said he can’t think of a better use for the money than “making it possible for orphans to drink clean water. It almost breaks my heart.”

“It’s a nice blend of engineering and caring for people,” Johnson said. “We are more than high-tech — we are high touch.”

The Benedictine Grange, a Catholic church, and Murphy International Development Corp., a renewal energy company, both in Connecticut, funded the parts to build the purification system and the well, a total of about $15,000. Murphy International is also paying another $2,500 for equipment needed to install the system.

Those two groups became interested after the Rev. Jean Ridley, who is with the orphanage, spoke to the Benedictine Grange congregation about the need for clean water.

Douglas Murphy, founder and president of the company and uncle of Embry-Riddle student Joe Murphy, was familiar with the previous purification system the university built and contacted Professor Compere. He said what the students have designed and built “is absolutely remarkable” especially since the parts can be transported on a commercial airline.

The solar-powered purifier works by pumping water from a well, which will flow through four canisters that kill bacteria and viruses while removing metals, according to Embry-Riddle junior Yung Wong, 21, who helped build the system.

The new system will produce four gallons of clean water per minute and have four solar panels compared to the Embry-Riddle system installed last year that produced one gallon per minute and had one solar panel. The water storage tank is also larger.

The systems are both modeled after one originally designed by Embry-Riddle students in 2008.

Wong, president of the university’s mechanical engineers club, who will be going to Haiti, said the system will help children “lead a healthier life.”

Alena Thompson, 19, of Texas, who is in her second year at Embry-Riddle, helped design last year’s system and worked on schematics and virtual models of the new system. She is hoping to be part of the team going to Haiti. She thinks it will help her describe the impact firsthand as she tries to get more funding for future projects.

Johnathan Camp, 22, a senior from Crystal River, Matt Selkirk, 20, Orlando, and Jared Coleman, 21, Lake Worth, who have been building and testing the system, said they are also excited about being able to help people in Haiti. They will be staying in the orphanage while they install the system.

“It’s going to be awesome just being a part of cutting-edge technology,” Camp said.

Yan Tang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering who has also been working on the purification system, said it and future projects give students motivation to “make the world a better place to live” and “to see they can help people directly.”

The university is also seeking a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Phase One of developing a portable system that could be placed in a backpack and taken to various sites during a disaster to purify water.

Embry-Riddle would also like to make even more systems similar to the one going to Haiti for other countries in need of clean water.

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