SUNY-ESF and the ERE department recently welcomed Doug Hollinger to a special session of ERE 596 Appropriate Technology for the Developing World. Hollinger is a science teacher at Pavillion High School in the Genessee Valley of New York and founder of Global Youth Service Team, a non-profit organization that brings basic sanitation and renewable energy technology to refugees in the Myanmar-Thailand border region. Refugees in this area have fled brutal ethnic and political violence in Myanmar, and while tolerated in Thailand, conditions in the refugee camps are dismal. Access to medical care, clean water, and proper nourishment are scarce and as a result disease and malnourishment are rampant. Hollinger’s passion for education and the life-saving power of engineering technology were evident as he guided students through the theory, operation, and construction of a simple pump and water purifier using materials readily procured from hardware stores all over the world.

Anna cutting PVC for the hydraulic ram pump

During the Saturday building session, Hollinger took the same approach with the ERE students as he does with refugees in Thailand and with the young volunteers he brings along. That is, materials and design drawings were provided and students were allowed to work toward the final product with oversight and instruction provided when necessary. In this way, the people that ultimately need to operate and maintain the devices in the field gain an intimate knowledge of how they work, their expected performance, and their limitations.

Applying PVC cement

The ERE department generously provided materials for two student groups to independently build a hydraulic ram pump and an ultraviolet (UV) light water purifier. Hydraulic ram pumps use the energy of moving water from a river or stream to transport a smaller amount of water uphill to the point of use. Once in a convenient location, the water still needs to be treated for harmful pathogens. This is accomplished with the UV purifier. Consisting of a UV bulb housed inside a stainless steel tube with influent and effluent water connections, the purifier is mounted to the underside of a simple wooden table with a place for a bucket of untreated influent water on top. Gravity carries water past the UV light for approximately 30 seconds allowing for the deactivation of harmful bacteria and viruses.

Completed hydraulic ram pump!

Hollinger will be invited to return to SUNY-ESF in April to help students finish building the ultimate clean water machine with a biosand filter to remove coarse solids from water before UV treatment and a photovoltaic (PV) solar array to power the UV bulb. The end product will be a powerful, fully functional demonstration of the amazing things people can do with limited resources, simple materials, and basic engineering concepts. This simple system of devices has the ability to greatly reduce water-borne illness in some of the poorest areas of the world. The experience has been terrifically rewarding and, as many students are involved with the SUNY-ESF chapter of Engineers Without Borders, will be a source of valuable experience for the time when students are tasked with providing clean water to rural populations around the world.

Working on the UV purifier

Many thanks go to Doug Hollinger for sharing his time, expertise, and passion for bringing life-saving appropriate technology to the developing world. Thanks also to Dr. Ted Endreny, the ERE department, and the students of ERE 596 Appropriate Tech (especially TJ Decker!) for a wonderful event.

Completed UV purification tube