By Ana Tausinga
Ha’apai, Tonga – A group of final-year Chemical and Process Engineering (CAPE) students from the University of Canterbury (UC) are taking on the challenge to design a solution for clean drinking for the remote island of Felemea in the Ha’apai Island group of Tonga.
According to a report by Voxy, “The team of four needs to create an economically viable plan for a small-scale plant to desalinate and sterilise drinking water. It should be powered by renewable resources since the village – a real place called Felemea – only has electricity for two hours each day and diesel is expensive.”
The report goes on to say, “There have been issues with the ground water supply in the village and some outbreaks of gastrointestinal-type diseases, so there is a need for a better system to serve the 200 people who live there.”
“The idea for the project came from Siale Faitotonu, a geomechanics laboratory technician in the UC College of Engineering. He was a high school teacher in Tonga, and visited Felemea on a UC research trip at the start of this year.”
Faitotonu, who is mentoring the students based on his local knowledge and first-hand experience says, “This project is good for the students and for the community. Hopefully, it will become a reality because that would be a blessing for Felemea.”
He continues, “There are also other islands in Tonga having similar problems with water, who might be able to use the same kind of processing plant.”
Although, this project is currently in the research phase, the students are hopeful practical application will soon follow to make their design goal a reality.
“This is a project that has a humanitarian aspect to it because everyone should have access to clean drinking water. I think the project is really important and it brings me joy to think that it could improve people’s lives,” says team member Olivia Duplan.
Duplan states, “It would be amazing if our design could be implemented and we want to do everything possible to make that feasible, like utilising systems that are already in use on other Pacific islands.”
“UC CAPE Associate Professor Matt Watson says the design scenario is a great opportunity for the students to apply their knowledge on a global scale and generate connections with a Pacific Island community.”
The other team members involved in the project are Craig Stocker, Jack Deeley and Matt Rennie.
“The team is currently researching the pattern of water usage in the village and their plan, so far, is to use solar energy to power the plant.”
UC Pacific Academic Lead, Ashalyna Noa says, “The project is an encouraging response to the UC Pasifika Strategy. “While this is of great benefit to Felemea, UC engineering students are learning about Tonga and growing their own cultural responsiveness.”
The report goes on to say, other Tongan residents such as Sione Sunia (District Officer) and Latu Mo’ale Fusitu’a (Town Officer) are involved for their feedback.
The top team project is due by late October, and has a chance to compete in the Australasian Institute of Chemical Engineers Design Competition.