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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Advisory of the Day



This story is brought to you in part by Glenergy

Using the sun to treat drinking water is not a new concept. In fact references can be found in the Sanskrit text Sus'ruta Samhita of purifying water by heating it using the sun. A team of researchers at University at Buffalo (UB) are taking this tradition applying contemporary scientific approaches, and challenging health and socio-economic issues at the same time.

We spoke with Dr. James Jensen, Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, about the project. Dr. Jensen states that at UB "a lot of research is conducted in the area of Empowered Sustainable Water Treatment". Dr. Jensen adds that has substantial amount of work has been done in solar disinfection, and the Water Lens was born of that work.

The Water Lens project "simply used water in a plastic sheet to focus sunlight" to heat it up. Dr. Jensen adds that the project uses a scientific approach "to find ways to use the least amount of energy, and make it [more] efficient." Using sunlight is not a new means of water purification, Dr. Jensen suggests that what is new with the Water Lens project "is finding the least expensive ways of doing that."

The lens heats the water to kill any pathogens that may be present. Why not just boil the water? Dr. Jensen states the reason for not boiling is expense. He adds that it's a "huge waste of energy". The activity of boiling water in the developing world can come with other concerns such as "the activity of gathering wood for a fire can be quite dangerous," says Jensen.

Capitalizing on the project and marketing it, was not the main focus, as Dr. Jensen says "it's not about making money; not about producing a product that you can buy, more about teaching people techniques that they can use where ever they live."

"Rather than just providing people, particularly in the developing world, with advanced technologies that break down immediately, we empower people to treat their own drinking water." In a Canadian context, this project could have major implications for Indigenous communities.

Field work on the project has been done in Uganda, but is just now really moving outside of the university setting. Dr. Jensen says that one of the aims of the projects is to use local materials that would be found in the field, and models are being constructed at UB; he adds that being in Buffalo they are constrained by the winter months.

The Water Lens offers many opportunities to developing areas of the world to have access to clean safe drinking water. The project aims to use local materials, making it cost efficient and within the means of any community, once the skills are learned, to continue the work. This project also aims to have social impacts in the communities. "In the developing world gathering wood, [or procuring fresh water], is usually a task given women and girls, putting them at risk," he says.

The Water Lens will allow communities in the developing world to have clean water nearby. Which measn that women and girls "don't to go as far to get water", says Jensen states leaving them with more time and giving them an opportunity to go to school.

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