High School Student Invents A Prototype That Solves Two Global Issues At Once
An Australian high school student has invented a prototype that turns dirty water and sunlight into clean water and power.
The 17-year-old Cynthia Sin Nga Lam is a Google Science Fair finalist who aims to solve two global issues — water pollution and the energy crisis — at once. She has developed a prototype called H2Pro, which essentially purifies dirty water and then uses pollutants in the water to boost power production. The whole process takes place in a separate compartment powered only by sunlight.
Lam, who studies in Balwyn High School in Melbourne, Australia, began her research on renewable electricity generation last year, and eventually came up with an idea to incorporate water purification into her power generation process. Her H2Pro fuel cell is composed of two parts: An upper unit and a lower unit.
The upper unit is meant for photocatalytic water-purification. The wastewater enters the unit where it is allowed to go through a hexagonal titanium mesh. The mesh is then activated by the sun in order to sterilize the water. The photocatalytic reaction also breaks the water into hydrogen and oxygen so if you turn on the gas valve, it will allow hydrogen to flow to the fuel cell, ultimately generating electricity.
On the other hand, the sterilized water is sent to the bottom unit for further filtration. Lam noted that this lower filter is sort of an accessory as the process of photocatalysis could effectively decompose pollutant and purify the water. However, it comes handy during the filtration of household wastewater which has a higher concentration of organic pollutant that may require further purification.
H2Pro may not be a new technique for water filtration, but what makes it unique is its approach towards producing a clean power at the same time.
“There are some technologies for purifying water that are similar, but you’d need an extra source of electricity,” says Lam. “For this one, you only need sunlight and titania. It can generate a very efficient source of clean electricity as well.”
Moreover Lam’s prototype is both low-cost and easy to construct, and the concept could be applied at a larger scale. Applying it to household scale, for example, H2Pro could affix to rooftop. So when the dirty water is sent through a titanium dioxide net on the roof and directed through different pipes, it could result in providing clean water and generating electricity, thus making homes self-efficient. If the technology is used along with solar panels, it can even optimise the electrical efficiency.
There are 783 million people around the world who lack clean water and electricity. Majority of these people are unable to use existing designs to solve these issues because these techniques are either excessively complex, or they’re of high cost. According to Lam, the H2Pro mechanism is equally affordable and manageable for users in underdeveloped countries.
“I think people around the world don’t really understand how serious water pollution and the energy crisis is,” she said in a video for her prototype. “I’d really like to finalize the design, because it could potentially help people in developing countries. It would be great to have clean water and electricity supplied sustainably, without needing any outside help. It would be awesome.”
Lam is one of 15 finalists in this year’s Google Science Fair, and if she wins, she is determined to improve her device and make a difference in third-world countries.
Google plans to declare the winners of its Science Fair on September 22.
Source: Google Science Fair 2014