By Mark Dwortzan
A team of Boston University students placed first in an Innovative Design Competition sponsored by Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., a developer of lightweight flexible thin-film photovoltaic modules. Dubbed “Team Anywhere Water Bottle,” the winners—MSE PhD student Ryan Eriksen; MSE MEng students Poornima Muralidhar and Jackson Chang; and School of Management student Cameron Feldman—developed a portable, solar-powered water purification system that integrates seamlessly into a common plastic water bottle. The BU students will receive a $10,000 grand prize and visit Ascent’s world headquarters and manufacturing facility in Colorado.
Over a seven-month period, competing teams were challenged to develop the most innovative applications for Ascent’s solar panels, which they incorporated into working prototypes. Their work was then judged on its marketability, level of innovation and effective use of the “flexible form factor” of Ascent’s solar modules. The BU team edged out competitors from University of California Berkeley, Texas A&M University, San Diego State University and the University of Oregon.
The BU team’s application uses an LED ultraviolet (UV) light bulb to purify water by eliminating waterborne microbes, which cause an estimated 1.8 million deaths each year.
“Whether we are dealing with avid campers, world travelers or children living in third-world nations, the necessity for clean drinking water can ultimately be solved by efficient, cheap water purification systems,” said Muralidhar, who, like Chang, is enrolled in the LEAP program. “Through the use of our design, we hope to provide a means for water purification that is simple, portable, and convenient.”
The design incorporates a water bottle with an attachable plastic cap, a sleeve consisting of Ascent flexible solar panels, a solar-cell rechargeable battery, a long-rod UV-LED bulb attached to the inside cap of the water bottle, and a second, smaller LED bulb on the outside of the cap that acts as an indicator light. Team Anywhere Water Bottle chose the Nalgene water bottle for its simplistic design structure, high durability and marketability.
“Your creative use of Ascent’s flexible modules embodied the spirit of the competition, and your design was truly innovative,” Justin Jacobs, the company’s campaign and marketing manager, told Team Anywhere Water Bottle. “Ascent believes that this product will be useful in creating access to clean, potable water for consumers in a wide range of markets and geographies.”
The BU team developed their prototype through trial and error. “We all had some sense about how we wanted the water bottle application to look, but did not know how to set up all of the parts at first,” said Muralidhar. “After some testing and experimentation, we were able to come up with a suitable design.”