This Project will engage students of all disciplines in service learning experiences that provide support to NGO’s engaged in developing sustainable local businesses that manufacture low-cost ceramic water filters in poor communities around the world.
In underdeveloped rural areas and rapidly growing cities the water treatment facilities are overwhelmed rapidly growing populations or non-existent. In these circumstances "macroscopic" water treatment infrastructure cannot be used to address this growing problem. Household water treatment and storage may be the only viable solution if inexpensive and sustainable technologies can be implemented on a very large scale.
Clay-based ceramic water filters are among a few technologies that are recognized to be promising and accessible technologies by the World Health Organization ( http://www.who.int/topics/drinking_water/en/) because they have been shown to be very effective at removing bacteria from drinking water. It is also a sustainable approach because all societies have a functioning ceramics manufacturing industry that has traditionally supplied containers for household water storage.
Figure 1: The Filtron Filter developed for Potters for Peace
Potters for Peace ( http://www.pottersforpeace.org) and other NGOs (including South East Asia and Pure Water for All) have developed this concept by developing a simple pot filter and training local potters to make the pots as well as the required presses and kilns. The potters then use the technology to develop business opportunities selling the filters to local inhabitants for US$ 10-15. More than 100,000 filters have now been placed in countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador in South and Central America as well as Ghana and Kenya in Africa and Cambodia and Indonesia in South East Asia. There is still a considerable amount of development work to be done with regard to the use of antibacterial nanoparticles in the filters, development of alternative filter geometries such as a smaller lightweight ceramic candle filter that can be more easily transported to remote areas. Additionally, it may be appropriate to develop other functional additives to remove other kinds of contamination such as arsenic. In this respect, NGOs that develop new filters, the potters that manufacture them and the NGOs that implement them in the field require support in topics such as ceramics processing, public health and business.
This research project is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. The Mascaro Center is aimed at initiating and nurturing research and education in the research thrust areas of green construction and sustainable water use. Faculty from almost every engineering discipline at Pitt are involved with the center and engage in sustainability research with it's support. The Mascaro Center supports 22 graduate students, primarily through National Science Foundation grants such as the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). The Pittsburgh IGERT Sustainable Engineering Fellowship provides the interdisciplinary basis for attacking problems in sustainable engineering and promotes the cross cultural skills needed to address the global issues of sustainability. Pitt IGERT students conduct a 6 month research rotation in Brazil. Research for undergraduates: The Mascaro Center also supports several 12-week summer research programs for undergraduates. In the past they have supported the Ceramic Filter Project through the International Research Experience for Students. The motivation behind IRES is to stimulate international cooperation on sustainable development and design. The format for IRES is to spend twelve weeks doing research: eight weeks at the University of Pittsburgh and four weeks in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil to collaborate with faculty and students at the state University of Campinas (UNICAMP).
For more information on these programs visit http://www.mascarocenter.pitt.edu