Teens Create Bicycle-Powered Water Filtration System to Provide Safe Drinking Water

High schoolers led a team of inventors, bringing their high-powered device to the White House

(Image: Getty Images)

Kiona Elliot, 18

Payton Karr, 16

Hometown: Oakland Park, Florida

School: Northeast High School. Elliot will be attending the University of Florida in Fall 2013.

Favorite subject: Elliot’s favorite subject is environmental science. Karr enjoys chemistry.

Fun fact: In 2012, the young innovators and their team scored a $10,000 InvenTeam grant which supported the construction of the bicycle-powered emergency water-sanitation system. With the help of their community, the InvenTeam cohort, which is comprised of 14 members, was able to fundraise $17,000 to cover additional expenses such as travel and accommodations.

Natural disasters can cause horrific devastation, leaving behind mass destruction and many victims on their own in search of food and a clean water supply.  While brainstorming about an idea to submit for the Lemelson- MIT InvenTeam program grant, a pedal-powered filtration system was born.

One of the Northeast High School students in the program, Kalie Hoke, visited Haiti after the destructive 2010 earthquake and discovered how difficult it was to track down sanitary drinking water.

“We realized that we definitely wanted our project to be based upon [this] because, for us, it’s so easy to go to a kitchen or a bathroom sink to turn the tap and get water,” said Kiona Elliot, a senior at Northeast. “But in other countries people are dying because they don’t have the same privileges that we do with water.”

Representing a team of inventors who designed the bicycle-powered water filtration system, the young innovators—Elliot and Payton Karr— presented the device to President Barack Obama during the third Annual White House Science Fair, highlighting the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country, last April. Elliot and Karr were among the 100 students from more than 40 states present at the 2013 national science fair. Obama gave the bike, which provides 20-30 people with approximately a gallon of drinking water in a 15-hour period, a spin.

“He was excited that young people could be doing something that would impact the world in a great way,” said Karr.

BlackEnterprise.com spoke to the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam participants about how the high-powered filtration system works, their passion for STEM and where the innovative duo will be in five years.

BlackEnterprise.com: How does the filtration system work?

Karr: The invention is powered by the bicycle, which has a hub-motor on the back which powers everything in the electrical box which includes a pump and two ozone generators.  Water is pumped from the initial holding tank that has a 100 and 200 micron mesh to filter out any large particles.  It’s pumped from that container into a second container through the electrical box which has an ozone generator to sanitize the water using ozone.  Once it gets into the second container, the second ozone generator diffuses the ozone throughout the container continuously to keep the water from being re-contaminated.

Elliot: The bicycle, not only does it convert kinetic energy to power our system, but it also can be used to transport our system because the entire thing is collapsible and can be placed into our box, which is actually designed after a pizza box.  It closes and bolts and the bike can then be hitched onto the container, and the container has two wheels on the side so that it can be transported easily to whatever area needed.

Given that Haiti was the inspiration for the filtration system, do you have plans to take your invention there?

Elliot: We’re actually trying to get our project patented and then sent to different areas that need it.  We’ve been trying to contact Red Cross about possibly using our invention and taking it to areas needed. We were contacted by a missionary group that takes trips to Haiti and they expressed their interest about possibly taking our invention with them on a mission trip to Haiti. We’re hoping it works out. There are just a couple of corrections we want to make with our invention to make it more easily available to missionary groups, so that they can take it with them.

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