Two University of Strathclyde teams have reached the Grand Final of a global competition where engineering students design real world solutions to issues faced by two coastal communities in Peru.

The Engineers Without Borders Engineering for People Design Challenge attracted entries from nearly 10,000 students from South Africa, UK, Ireland and the USA.

The Challenge uses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to inspire and influence global responsibility through engineering. Students are asked to design ethical and environmentally sound solutions and are challenged to accommodate cultural sensitivities into their design process and concept.

Design concepts

The Strathclyde teams, one of first year Electronic and Electrical Engineering students and the other of third year Civil and Environmental Engineering students, developed design concepts to address issues associated with SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation – faced by the neighbouring communities of Lobitos and Piedritas.

The challenge design brief identified tourism as a growing economic opportunity, in large part due to the ideal conditions for water sports such as surfing. Achieving this sustainably and protecting the local natural habitat, as well as including the local community in the economic benefit, is not without challenge.

While Lobitos is known for its surf tourism, between 70-80% of the residents live in poverty due to high levels of unemployment and a lack of basic infrastructure and services.

Students designed a solution for one area from a list including built environment, food, energy, waste, water, sanitation, transport and digital, and also demonstrated consideration of the social, cultural, environment and economic impacts of their design concept.

Water supply

Both teams focused on the issues associated with the communities’ lack of a reliable, good quality and easily accessible water supply.

The CEE team of students Louise Connolly, David Curry, William Gunn, and Thomas Short, developed a known groundwater source, re-using or upgrading existing infrastructure where possible.

Through the use of solar powered water pumps, their solution would provide sustainable clean water at lower cost with less price volatility than the bottled water that residents of Lobitos depend on, yet struggle to afford.

The EEE team of students, Sean Doherty, Ryan Fraser, Oran Murray and Joshua Sam, focused their design concept on the development of solar desalination units, installed as community water hubs, and as part of an interconnected water network, to separate and supply clean water from salt and other nasty impurities that are present in the ocean’s water.

This could potentially provide the entire population of Losbito and Piedritas with drinking water, regardless of economic status or income.

Community impact

As part of their design and presentation, students also must justify how a reliable source of water would impact on the community, and the benefits they would offer in terms of allowing adults to work effectively in the hot climate.

First year EEE student Sean Doherty said: “The project has introduced me to a new style of approaching engineering – in which our first step was to fully understand the heart of the problem and develop a solution that engages the community – rather than focusing on technical aspects right from the start. 

“EWB has been a great way to work closely with other engineering students and staff at a time when the lack of face-to-face teaching has made this difficult.”

Louise Connolly from the CEE team said: “Taking part has been an invaluable opportunity. We’ve had the chance not only to interact with those in industry, but have also been challenged to think in a globally responsible way by thinking beyond ‘what’ we are designing, and considering ‘why’ we are designing it.”

As part of the Grand Finals series, the students will pitch to the judging panellists made of academics, non governmental organisations and industry experts.