University of Canterbury Student Creating New 3D Printed Water Filter

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There have been many instances where compassionate and resourceful people and organizations have turned to 3D printing to improve the lives of people in need, from providing medical devices like hand and breast prosthetics, hearing aids, and supplies to helping people get access to clean water. It’s a basic human right – we need water to survive, and according to World Vision, nearly 1,000 children under the age of 5 die each day from diarrhea that’s caused by contaminated water, in addition to improper hygiene and sanitation.

We’ve seen multiple 3D printing projects over the years that have a goal of helping create, or providing people with access to, non-contaminated water. Fifth graders in Pennsylvania created a 3D printed device to both catch and filter rainwater, while a Kickstarter campaign was launched four years ago for a 3D printed filterless device and solar still that filtered the salt out of saltwater – which makes up 98% of Earth’s water. One initiative even used 3D printing to pull safe, drinkable water out of thin air.

3D printed filters and water filtration systems are likely the best bet when it comes to doing lasting good, as they can ensure that harmful pollutants and other materials are fully removed from the water. This is just what Benjamin Houlton, a Master of Engineering student at the University of Canterbury, is trying to create.

UC Master of Engineering student Benjamin Houlton is researching how filters can be 3D-printed to remove trace metals from wastewater streams and other polluted waterways. [Image: University of Canterbury]

His Master’s degree is due for completion next year, and he has been researching how to 3D print filters so they’re able to successfully remove trace metals from wastewater streams and any additional polluted waterways. His goal is creating a 3D printable filter than can be used to improve the quality of water in developing countries, and save people’s lives.

Houlton said, “Further down the track the filters could be used in developing countries like Cambodia where there are high levels of arsenic in river water.”

He was awarded the Biomolecular Interaction Centre scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree in Chemical and Process Engineering at the university. He’s focusing on using computer simulations of water actively flowing through filters in order to figure out what the best, most effective structure will be.

“The benefits of 3D-printing mean we can simulate and predict the different flow characteristics before the filters are made,” Houlton explained. “It also means we can recreate the same filter over and over.”

The most traditional viewpoint of water filtration is that randomly packed structures will perform the best. But, with the advent of more modern technologies like 3D printing, Houlton’s UC supervisors learned that this system is no longer the best option. Houlton explained that we can use 3D printing to create finer structures for filters, which, as he put it to UC, “challenge the performance of randomly ordered models of filter.”

Houlton is looking to get a deeper understanding of water filters before he uses flow modeling simulations to determine which type will be the most capable at its task. Then, he will validate his models against experimental data that’s been provided from collaboration research partners.

In addition to removing metal traces from waste water, Houlton says his 3D printed filter could have multiple applications if successful, including a wide range of packed-bed technologies – a hollow tube, pipe, or other vessel that is filled with a packing material, like catalyst particles or granular activated carbon, in chemical processing.

Scion, a Crown research institute that specializes in technology, science, and research development for biomaterial sectors like forestry, initiated this 3D printed filter project in collaboration with an unnamed industrial partner. Once Houlton has completed his 3D printed water filter design, Scion will experimentally test its effectiveness.

In addition to the scholarship from the Biomolecular Interaction Centre, Houlton was also the recipient of a prestigious William Georgetti scholarship, which he will use once he has completed his UC Master’s degree to complete a doctorate relating to his research passions overseas.

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[Source: University of Canterbury]
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