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Teenager invents device to produce clean water in developing countries

Sixteen-year-old Macinley Butson will present her solar-powered device for producing clean water and sterilised water for medical use at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize ceremony this week in Stockholm.

The winner of the Australian Stockholm Junior Water Prize, which is sponsored by Xylem, invented the SOLAR SYSTEM to help improve the lives of the 844 million people around the world who don’t have access to clean water.

“One issue that I was particularly interested in addressing is the lack of sterile medical water,” Butson said.

“In some areas, they don’t have hospitals; they basically have little tents where they’re performing medical procedures and they don’t have access to running water or sterilised water. So you can image when they’re cleaning wounds they’re getting infected.”

According to the World Health Organisation, more than one in 10 people who have surgery in low- and middle-income countries acquire an infection. That’s three to five times higher than the risk in high-income countries such as Australia.

“This is all due to lack of sterilised water,” Butson said. “I really wanted to make an all-in-one package that could help as many people as possible, in a simple and effective way.”

The SOLAR SYSTEM consists of three distinct parts that work together using solar energy to provide both clean, potable drinking water and sterile water for medical use.

“First of all, the water is put through a chemical containment, which has things like bone char and rusted iron to eliminate fluoride, arsenic, most heavy metals and all the chemical contaminants,” Butson said.

“It’s then fed into a solar disinfection tube, which is basically some clear tubing, which it sits in for the day and the UV is actually able to penetrate and split the DNA of biological contaminants.

“Half this water is also placed into solar disinfection bottles, and these act as a part of the water drip and spring system on either side of the solar panels. As the water drips out slowly through the day, the weight changes and is able to actually tip the solar panel to attract the sun.”

The solar panels also have reflectors, and the combination of both systems improves the solar panel output by up to 50%. Ultimately, this power is used with a pressure cooker to sterilise up to one litre of water per day.

Butson said her invention can be scaled up or down to suit the needs of individuals, but she hopes it will be used primarily in clinics to prevent the spread of infection caused by unsterilised equipment.

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