Using Old TV Parts and Sun to Clean Water

Engineering students win two design competitions for their idea to treat water using a Fresnel lens and sunlight

PULSE Team standing outside Winston Chung Hall

From left, Jung “JJ” Park, Estevan “Steven” Ochoa, Jason Farag, Kawai Tam, Christopher Quach and David Ye He

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — A team of students from the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have won two recent design competitions for a method they developed that uses the sun and a lens commonly found in old projection big screen televisions to make water safe to drink.

The students received a $10,000 grant from the Southern California World Water Forum (WWF), which is sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, Water for People and Friends of the United Nations. The team also was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency- People, Prosperity and the Planet (EPA – P3) Student Design Competition for Sustainability.

“We are ecstatic,” said Christopher Quach, one of the students on the team. “There were high fives all around when we got the news.”

During the next year the students will use the funding to refine the design of their system so that it is compact, lightweight and low cost and treats two liters of water in an hour. That would make their system more efficient than other low-cost water treatment methods used in third-world countries, which take two to six hours to treat two liters of water.

The students – Quach, Jason Farag, David Ye He, Estevan “Steven” Ochoa and Jung “JJ” Park – are all environmental engineering majors. All except Farag are graduating this month. Despite graduating, the four and Farag plan to continue working on the project while also recruiting their fellow junior environmental engineering students to help.

In April 2013, they will present their design at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C. for a chance to receive $90,000 in phase two funding from the EPA’s P3 competition. That money would go toward commercializing the technology. In April, another team of engineering students won the phase two grant for a project to develop a solar-power clothes dryer.

The students working on the water cleansing system are advised by Kawai Tam, a lecturer at the Bourns College of Engineering, and Mark Matsumoto, associate dean of research and graduate education and professor in the department of chemical and environmental engineering. Christina Awad, a graduate student in Matsumoto’s lab, is also advising the team.

The students’ work addresses a major worldwide problem: the lack of access to safe and sanitary drinking water. UNICEF reports that more than 780 million people lack access to safe water sources.

The students’ PULSE (Pasteurization Using a Lens and Solar Energy) method uses a Fresnel lens – which is essentially a large magnifying glass, but thinner and lighter in weight and made of acrylic – and sunlight to pasteurize water.

Fresnel lens heating water

Fresnel lens using sunlight to heat water in water bottle.

Pasteurization eliminates pathogens in water that cause disease and infection. Diarrhea is the most common complication of these pathogens. There are nearly 4 billion cases of diarrhea in the world each year. They result in nearly 1.8 million deaths, of which 90 percent are children under the age of five.

The students started work on the project in the summer of 2011. At the time, Ochoa and Quach were working in Matsumoto’s lab. Ochoa and Quach decided to pursue the idea for the World Water Forum competition. They recruited the rest of the team, did some preliminary research and submitted their applications for the two competitions in December.

During the preliminary research, using salvaged supplies, they spiked a ½-liter bottle of water with E.Coli and demonstrated their method pasteurized the water in 15 minutes. They now plan to experiment with different sizes and types of Fresnel lenses to optimize the design.

The team is the second from the Bourns College of Engineering to receive funding from both competitions. A team in 2005 won both for a project that focused on harvesting rainwater.

Media Contact

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Additional Contacts

Kawai Tam
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