Canterbury student designs 3D-printed water filter to save lives

A University of Canterbury student is developing 3D-printed water filters with potential to improve water quality in developing countries.

UC Master of Engineering student Benjamin Houlton is researching how filters can be 3D-printed to remove trace metals from wastewater streams and other polluted waterways.

“Further down the track the filters could be used in developing countries like Cambodia where there are high levels of arsenic in river water,” he says.

His main focus is using computer simulations of water flowing through filters to determine the most effective structure.

The conventional view is that randomly packed filter structures have the best performance, however Benjamin’s supervisors at UC discovered that with new technologies this is no longer true.

He says modern 3D-printing technologies enable the creation of finer structures, which challenge the performance of randomly ordered models of filter.

With his Master’s degree due for completion next year, the race is on to understand and identify the most beneficial filter structure using flow modelling simulations, and validate the models against experimental data supplied by collaboration research partners.

“The benefits of 3D-printing mean we can simulate and predict the different flow characteristics before the filters are made. It also means we can recreate the same filter over and over.”

Removing metal traces from waste-water is just one application, Benjamin says. If it is successful it might change a whole range of packed-bed technologies.

Scion in Rotorua, which initiated the project in collaboration with an industrial partner, will experimentally test the effectiveness of the new solid filter designs.

Benjamin won the Biomolecular Interaction Centre scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree at UC and also received a prestigious William Georgetti scholarship which he will use to complete a doctorate overseas once his Master’s is complete, enabling him to pursue his research passions.