A team of eight engineering students from the Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Campus that designed and built a new kind of water purifier has been named one of the 15 winners of the 2012 People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) national competition sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As winners, the Embry-Riddle students will receive a $90,000 EPA grant to refine and patent their device, a solar-powered water purification system that can fit into a backpack for easy transport to disaster-stricken areas around the world. The design is based on two stand-alone water purifiers the students built and installed in Haiti after that nation’s 2010 devastating earthquake. (To read more about the team's previous water purification project in Haiti, visit Lift magazine.

The 15 teams honored for their innovative environmental solutions were selected from 45 college and university teams drawn from an original field of 165 applicants from across the country.

The independent judging panel of the P3 competition, which was held April 21-23, 2012, during the eighth annual National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C., evaluated the ability of the student projects to protect the environment, encourage economic growth and use natural resources more efficiently.

“The competition and expo are not only about EPA’s prestigious P3 Award, but also about supporting the next generation of this country’s innovators and entrepreneurs who are entering the environmental and public health field with passion to make a difference and many brilliant ideas,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The P3 program gives these students the opportunity to bring those ideas to realization and many have the potential to make significant impacts on our nation’s sustainable future and development of environmental technologies.”

The Embry-Riddle team took home two other awards from the expo – the 2012 EPA P3 Student Choice Award bestowed by the other P3 teams, and the U.S. Army’s Net Zero Award for Water, Waste and Energy.

The team was composed of Mechanical Engineering students Yung Wong (team leader) of Iselin, N.J.; Johnathon Camp of Crystal River, Fla.; Kyle Fennesy of Richmond, Texas; James Holmes of Riegelsville, Pa.; Neil McCalla of Oxford, St. Mary, Jamaica; Shavin Pinto of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Dean White of Brandon, Fla.; and Civil Engineering student Jared Coleman of Lake Worth, Fla. They were advised by Embry-Riddle Mechanical Engineering professors Marc Compere and Yan Tang and Civil Engineering professor Mark Fugler.

“We’re very proud that the first wave of graduates from the new Clean Energy Systems track in our undergraduate Mechanical Engineering degree program swept three awards and won $90,000 at the expo with their solar water purifier backpack," said Tang, the principal investigator for the team. "It’s quite an achievement.”

“Our engineering students worked very hard on this for nearly two years as their Senior Design Project,” said Compere. “From the proposal preparation, to the hard work of designing and testing the water purifier, they took full ownership of this system and our entry into the EPA’s P3 Awards. In addition to the technical aspects of mechanical, water and solar power, the students learned valuable life lessons in teamwork and leadership. Early on, we challenged them to ‘make the iPhone of water backpacks.’ It takes very good teamwork and student leadership to pull it all together.”

Among its benefits, the Embry-Riddle water purifier can be deployed in less than 30 minutes using easily understood pictorial instructions, converting standing stagnant water into safe drinking water for up to 1,500 people per day. The device operates entirely on solar power and will run for 72 hours without sunlight if deep-cycle batteries are used.