Many of us take for granted that we aren’t infected with E. coli when we drink the water that comes out of our faucets.
Millions of people around the globe aren’t so lucky: They don’t have ready access to clean drinking water.
Five Montana Tech environmental engineering students are on a mission to change that. They have built a bicycle-powered water treatment system that can treat more than 800 gallons of water a day for pathogens.
David Hutchins, Joseph Rowe, Dustin Kaste, Zach Maassen and CJ Kissell, all seniors, presented their design at Montana Tech’s third annual Techxpo Design Showcase Thursday.
“It’s designed to accept any bicycle, whether it’s a nice street bike or a broken-down Schwinn,” Hutchins said. “It folds down and can be carried on a bike.”
The steel system prototype weighs about 50 pounds, so the group plans to make the next version out of aluminum to bring the weight down.
The H2O Cycle works by turning a spindle that has a two-gallon-per-minute pump on one side and a 12-volt generator on the other. Water is drawn through a series of three filters — a pleated paper filter that removes sediment, an activated carbon
filter that removes some contaminants and improves flavor, and a 5-micron fiber filter that reduces the haziness of the water — and then through an ultraviolet light chamber that kills bacteria.
It’s also fail-safe, because if 12 volts of power aren’t being generated, the valve that draws the water through the system won’t open.
For elderly or disabled people, the bike can also run off a 12-volt battery.
The system is 99.99 percent effective at removing water-borne pathogens, the students said.
With a retail cost of about $1,000, the H20 Cycle is also a financially viable way to treat water in developing nations and disaster zones. Bottled water can cost nearly $1,000 for 1,000 gallons. The H2O Cycle reduces the cost to $2 per 1,000 gallons, which is on-par with American municipal systems.
The H2O Cycle has a 10-year life when operated for six hours a day every day of the year. The filters must be replaced after filtering a set number of gallons, putting operating cost at about $323 annually.
“I’ve done a lot of camping and backpacking with large groups,” Hutchins said of how the group came up with the idea for the system. “Current pump filter treatment systems aren’t ergonomic and they’re expensive.”
And the faculty members at Montana Tech weren’t the only people impressed with the design.
Last week, the H2O Cycle won first place in the open task division at the Institute for Energy and the Environment engineering competition at New Mexico State University. The water treatment system also won the innovation and sustainability award, beating out projects submitted by college students from all over the nation.
Winning the award has opened new opportunities for the team and its invention, too.
“GE came and talked to us about putting on a low-pressure reverse osmosis system on it,” Kissell said.
That system would give the H2O Cycle the ability to desalinate water, too.
Hutchins said he hopes to take the treatment system beyond the scope of a senior project. He’d like to see the H2O Cycle manufactured for distribution locally.
“We’d love to produce them here in Butte.”