Saving lives with sunlight
Entire neighborhoods were leveled. Everywhere, there was debris, mud and water — though, none you could drink.
That’s what Mark Hogg, CEO and founder of WaterStep, saw when his Louisville-based nonprofit responded to a landslide in Mocoa, Columbia. The disaster had also affected the city’s infrastructure, limiting access to safe drinking water.
“So the only thing that we saw was our bleach maker being able to make a difference,” he said.
The machine can produce medical-grade bleach on-site using a car battery as a power source. But those batteries are bulky, and need to be constantly recharged.
“So we threw this down to the students,” he said. “Instead of using a car battery, could we use a solar panel?”
WaterStep enlisted a cross-disciplinary team of engineers and designers enrolled in Dr. Thad Druffel’s design course at the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, along with business students at Bellarmine University. U of L connects campus with industry to solve problems and create experiential learning opportunities through its Institute for Product Realization.
“We’re a team,” said Andrew Callahan, a mechanical engineering student who helped lead the product’s research and development. “We have to go at this entire project as a whole in order to be successful.”
Under the name “Sun Bleach,” the students developed the product alongside WaterStep’s own engineering team. Other students developed marketing materials and a business plan, which made a strong showing in the statewide entrepreneurship competition, Idea State U.
“With the young people working on this with them… it was this surge of energy,” Hogg said. “So, they fueled us with some jazz.”
WaterStep now plans to incorporate the bleach maker into another project called the “Water on Wheels,” or the “W.O.W.” The tool-laden cart aims to allow people in disaster areas or developing countries to manufacture both safe drinking water and medical-grade bleach.
But design student Emily Braun said the implications of improving access to safe, sanitary water and bleach stretch far beyond a class project or competition — it’s about saving lives.
“I know I am just a small pawn in this big game,” she said. “And to be able to work with these people who are implementing this type of change is incredible.”