Around the world, many of the 783 million people who don't have clean drinking water also don't have access to electricity.

A new design from an Australian high school student aims to solve both problems at once: While the device purifies wastewater, it uses pollutants in the water to boost power production in a separate compartment.

17-year-old Cynthia Sin Nga Lam, one of 15 finalists in this year's Google Science Fair, started researching renewable electricity generation last year, and quickly realized that she could incorporate water purification into her process.

Her prototype, called H2Pro, is a portable device powered only by sunlight. Dirty water goes in one end, and a titanium mesh, activated by the sun, sterilizes the water and sends it through an extra filter.

The photocatalytic reaction also splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen--so someone can flip a switch and start feeding a hydrogen fuel cell to produce clean power. Detergent, soap, and other pollutants in the water help make more hydrogen.

2014-08-20

Co.Exist

A 17-Year-Old Invented This Smart Device That Makes Clean Water And Power At The Same Time

The H2Pro turns dirty water and sunlight to clean water and power. What were you doing when you were 17?

Around the world, many of the 783 million people who don't have clean drinking water also don't have access to electricity. A new design from an Australian high school student aims to solve both problems at once: While the device purifies wastewater, it uses pollutants in the water to boost power production in a separate compartment.

17-year-old Cynthia Sin Nga Lam, one of 15 finalists in this year's Google Science Fair, started researching renewable electricity generation last year, and quickly realized that she could incorporate water purification into her process.

Her prototype, called H2Pro, is a portable device powered only by sunlight. Dirty water goes in one end, and a titanium mesh, activated by the sun, sterilizes the water and sends it through an extra filter. The photocatalytic reaction also splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen—so someone can flip a switch and start feeding a hydrogen fuel cell to produce clean power. Detergent, soap, and other pollutants in the water help make more hydrogen.

"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." The device is also low-cost, and because of the simple construction, would be easy to maintain over time.

Though Lam built a small, portable prototype, she envisions the same technology could be used at a larger scale. On a rooftop, for example, wastewater could be sent through a titanium dioxide net and then directed through different pipes to produce power and provide purified water. The tech could also be used along with solar panels to provide even more electricity.

"I think people around the world don't really understand how serious water pollution and the energy crisis is," says Lam. "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."

The winners of the Google Science Fair will be announced on September 22.

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11 Comments

  • Ron Hicks

    I realize this site exists to blow sunshine op kid's asses but this idea is neither new or practical. She is thinking about solving the world's problems and that's great but her "invention" is a "gee whiz, wouldn't it be great if" type of belly button lint pondering daydreaming concept. not a solution, just sayin.

  • sai_bhupalam

    Dear Cynthia, I have 3 words for you; Awesome, Congrats and GBY (God Bless you - I know that is not really a word). When I was 17 I was trying to change the world with my music but had a very small audience! In India, this is a huge issue - most "educated" people are the biggest perpetrators of pollution and are oblivious to water conservation or storage. Rainwater goes unharvested. It would be nice to see this product viable and available in India - there certainly is a big market for it here although it must be preceded by education and awareness of the importance of water pollution and the energy crisis. Our politicians are killing us in these areas by blatantly ignoring the problems. Good luck.

  • Mike Blankenship

    Hi Cynthia! Congrats on being selected as a Google finalist!! I have some suggestions for generating some startup cash, #1 Try crowd sourcing, it should be a hit! #2 Try getting in touch with Mr. Bill Gates thru one of his charity groups. Since he does alot of charity work in underdeveloped countries, this should be extremely interesting to him. #3 Send me a royalty check for the ideas!!! Lol Best wishes on your journey!

  • Rich Persoff

    Great concept! Some questions about its applicability:

    1. What does it purify from domestic non-sewer waste water?
    2. How much does it treat and how fast?
    3. What size unit would be required to purify 50 gallons/day of shower and laundry and kitchen sink and dishwasher effluent?
    4. How much power would this size unit generate?
    5. Cost?