This year’s finalists in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize are taking on the most challenging water issues in the world, with impressive results. In Bolivia, students are helping their community by teaching low-income families how to purify water using coconut shells. In the Republic of Korea, two students have discovered how to remove heavy metals from water using a substance that comes from algae.
Note: Due to COVID-19, this year’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize is being held entirely online. An innovative feature for the prize has also been introduced – the People’s Choice Award. The award ceremony will take place during WWWeek At Home, a series of virtual sessions with world-leading water and climate experts, held August 24-28, 2020. Xylem is the Founding Global Sponsor of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize.
This year’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize has finalists from 29 countries. Here are just a few of the inspirational projects from these young water leaders:
Bolivia: Teaching low-income families how to purify water with coconut shells
“Seeing people sick from drinking contaminated water, and constantly not being able to afford drinking water, was the main inspiration to do this project,” said Shanne Nashely Montenegro Poma. The two other members of the Bolivian finalist project are Grover Nahum Velasquez Ferrufino and Paulina Irene Velasquez Ferrufino. The group realised that the discarded Brazil nut and coconut shells in the streets of their city could be used for water purification.
“We started our research four years ago, trying different methods of water purification to see which was the most feasible and less expensive to apply within our community,” Paulina said. The project resulted in teaching 20 low-income families in the city of Cobija how to construct greywater and rainwater purification modules from these shells.
Switzerland: Evidence of microplastic pollution in the Swiss Alps
Anna Sidonia Marugg is a 19-year-old student who lives in the Engadin, a high Alpine valley region in the eastern Swiss Alps. For her project, she decided to investigate microplastic pollution in her area, since no studies had been done there, possibly because the region seems to be pristine. She found plastic residues at all measuring sites, showing that even seemingly remote regions and sparsely populated areas are affected by microplastic pollution.
“Plastic pollution is one of the topics each and every one of us can change and make sure it doesn’t get worse,” Anna said. “But if we don’t know that our seemingly clean rivers are also affected by the problem, we are not ready to change our behaviour or do something to prevent it.”
China: Creating sunscreen using eco-friendly plant oils
Melody Zhang, a student from Guangdong, China, wanted to find a way to make sunscreen that didn’t use synthetic chemical components, such as benzophenone, which research has indicated can damage coral reefs.
“Instead I used a substitute that is good for our environment,” she said. “We can combine natural plant oil that can absorb UV light with common physical sunscreen materials.”
In her project, the oils were mixed with the physical sunscreen materials (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide powder) to develop a more environmentally friendly sunscreen. This sunscreen effectively blocks the sun while reducing chemical pollution in marine ecosystems.
Republic of Korea: Filtering heavy metals using an eco-friendly liquid
Two students from the Republic of Korea have found a safer way to remove heavy metals from wastewater using a substance that comes from algae. “Contemporary methods of toxic heavy metal removal in wastewater involve using a coagulant to attract all of these ions together into a thick sludge,” said Jiung Nam. “However, this method has a few glaring drawbacks.”
These drawbacks include the loss of a lot of water in the treatment process and difficulty in safely disposing of the heavy metals in the sludge. “We wanted to make a system that can remove metal ions in a much more environmentally friendly and efficient way,” said Hyunseok Hong. “What we found was alginate, a polysaccharide derived from brown seaweed.”
USA: Improving oil spill cleanups in seawater
After an oil spill, the oil spreads into the surrounding seawater through wave action. This forces the oil and water to mix, trapping individual oil particles in the water, and vice versa, resulting in an emulsion – a mixture of liquids that normally don’t mix.
“Emulsions are such a dangerous part of oil spills, because they increase the overall volume of the spill and also float underneath the oceanic surface where many animals, including penguins, swim,” said US finalist Zoe Gotthold, a high-school student from Richland, Washington.
“I developed a non-toxic solution to actually separate these oil spill emulsions,” she said. “If we separate the emulsion, the less dense oil will float to the surface where it is less dangerous and more accessible to cleanup crews.”
Nigeria: Using common plants to treat contaminated water
“As a team, we were curious to find a nature-based water treatment solution, considering the fact that chlorine has adverse effects on the environment,” said Garuba Mustapha Ademola, a student living in Lagos, Nigeria. “We decided to do laboratory studies to solve the problem.”
The students were able to treat different kinds of contaminated water with commonly found plants. They also used GSM monitoring system to evaluate the effectiveness of their pollution-control measures.
“To purify the water, we use natural plants – Moringa olifera and Jatropha curcas,” said the other member of the Nigerian team, Adeola Elizabeth Adedokun. “With this technique, data from any treatment station can also be accessed in real time using GPRS/GSM or 3G cellular services.”