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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Drinking Water

Device uses sunlight to purify drinking water

August 19, 2014
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Water Lens - Copyright University of Buffalo
Deshawn Henry working on the water lens that can heat a liter of water to between 130 and 150 degrees F in a little more than an hour, destroying 99.9 percent of bacteria and pathogens. Photo copyright University of Buffalo

A new device called a water lens could help people in developing countries heat and disinfect polluted water, making it safe for drinking.

The device was developed by Deshawn Henry, a University of Buffalo sophomore civil engineering major, who researched how to improve a 6-foot-tall, self-sustaining magnifying glass.

The lens uses sunlight to disinfect water and can be built at very little cost. It consists of a plastic sheet covered with water supported by a wooden frame. The frame itself holds a small container of water below the lens in line with a focal point created from a concentrated ray of sunlight. It functions freely in the sunshine, apart from the need to move the container to keep up with the sun's movement during the day.

During his research, Henry altered the thickness of the plastic sheet and the volume of water over the sheet to maximize the efficiency of the lens.

According to the university, the device can heat a liter of water to between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit in just over an hour, destroying 99.9 percent of bacteria and pathogens.

The next step in Henry's research is to build a larger water lens that remains efficient, so that it could be used by a family of five.

Henry performed the study under James Jensen, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, as part of the UB Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which connects underrepresented students with research opportunities in STEM fields.

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