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DESIGN PARAMETERS FOR A FAMILY-SIZED CONTINUOUS SOLAR
DISINFECTION (SODIS) UNIT FOR DRINKING WATER PURIFICATION
Kristian Dubrawski, Andrea MacDonald, I an Muri, Sylvia
Green, J ulia Wu. J ulia Stafford. Lok Tin Lam, J ulian
Dubrawski, Bradley Pierik
Faculty of Applied Science - Various Departments,
and Engineers Without Borders, UBC Chapter
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight has been used in a continuous
process for the disinfection of drinking water in a family-sized
continuous solar disinfection (SODIS) unit for drinking water
purification in low-income settings. The “SODIS Family” is
completely fabricated from food-grade polyethylene (PE) film,
and can be made locally with minimal infrastructure. Total
cost is expected to be less than $2 CAD per unit, which can
treat 50 L of water per day. Fluid mechanic design required 44
photoactive serpentine channels of a 2 cm width, and negligible
friction losses. Experimental testing showed a hybrid-
vertical/horizontal orientation to be the most desirable.
Disinfection tests show a 3.22-log removal of fecal coliforms
after a 3 hour residence time in a 4 cm characteristic depth test
chamber, and a 4.5-log removal in a 2 cm depth (complete
disinfection). Thin PE (2 mil spec.) was used to maximize UV
penetration. Prototype testing of a family-sized reactor will be
done in May 2011 for the CANCAM conference results.
Stress analysis showed that hoop stress caused by water
pressure in the photoactive channels had the highest failure risk,
with a safety factor of only 1.3 for 2 mil PE. Stresses caused
by incomplete seals led to the development of novel sealing
methods to prevent leakage.
Water and energy have been identified as the two most critical
challenges our world faces today . The most recent global
estimate of burden of disease shows 2.2 miilion deaths from
diarrheal diseases in 2004, with 86% occurring in children
under 5 . Millennium Development Goal 7C is to halve the
proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by
2015. Simple, elegant, and appropriate technologies, such as
solar water disinfection (SODIS), have been shown to reduce
incidences of diarrhea by 30-80% .
Downes and Blunt  were the first to report the germicidal
effects of natural sunlight over 125 years ago. Since then,
SODIS has mostly been utilized at the household level with
clear PET bottles and a typical sunlight exposure of 6-8 hours
for disinfection . The use of SODIS in small, batch
containers has certain limitations: a maximum of 1 L treated per
container per day, difficulty in sourcing and shipping, and
uncertainty as to when disinfection has been completed.
Several alternative reactor designs have been proposed
, which have shown solar irradiation
requirements to be as low as 45 minutes in some reactor
Figure 1: SODIS Family projected use
This paper proposes a continuous SODIS reactor design,
capable of disinfecting 50 L of water per day, known as the
“SODIS Family”. The SODIS Family can be rolled up easily,
can collect rainwater during wet seasons, and costs a fraction of
previous configurations of high-volume SODIS reactor designs.
The design is simple to construct out of two sheets of
polyethylene film (PE). This paper reports on the bag design,
fluid mechanics, disinfection testing, and manufacturing of the
THEORETICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL METHODS
The mechanism of SODIS is UV-damage to pathogen cell
structure and UV
facilitated release of OH∙ free radicals .
Various equations have modeled the decay , but it is
generally agreed that the number of pathogens (N) decreases
according to first order kinetics:
, ( )
kN N t N e
= ÷ =
where k is dependent upon the intensity of sunlight and its
ability to penetrate the water sample and container. For
disinfection studies, faecal coliform testing was performed
comparable to other studies . 20 mL tubular chambers of
1:10 wastewater (Lulu Island, Vancouver) in 0.9% saline were
placed under simulated sunlight conditions (xenon low pressure
arc lamp producing an average of 4 mW/cm
) for 0, 90, and 180
minutes. 10 mL aliquots were withdrawn, filtered at 0.45 μm
(sterile PTFE membrane) and allowed to incubate at 44.5⁰C for
24 hours in an agar growth medium (Difco FC Agar). A
control sample with an opaque covering was placed alongside
each irradiated sample for comparison. All experiments were
done in duplicate.
For manufacturing design, an impulse heat sealer (ULINE 16”)
and food grade PE sheeting of 2 and 6 mil thicknesses (Starpak
Industries) were used with a benchtop tensile loading jig.
DESIGN AND FLUID MECHANICS
The SODIS Family is comprised of three separate chambers,
the storage chamber (family adds untreated surface water), the
photoactive chamber (high surface area to volume ratio for
disinfection), and the collection chamber (only safe, disinfected
water can enter this area), see figure 2a), which shows a
horizontal serpentine photoactive area.
The design objective was to attain the largest flowrate possible,
maximizing the treated water in a typical sunny period (8 hour
day) in tropical latitudes. The nominal flowrate into the
photoactive chamber from the storage chamber (volume V) is
thus the design parameter to maximize, which is simply
1 1 1
v A Q = (where Q
is the flowrate in m
is the area in
of the constriction hole and v
is the nominal velocity
through the constriction hole in m/s). The gravity-driven
pressure (head) is subject to Torricelli’s Law (eq. 1)
) ( 2
t h g v · · =
(where g is the gravitational constant, and h is the water height).
To determine h(t), the chain rule is employed:
v A Q
1 1 1
= = ÷ = ÷ =
and by equating,
4 2 2 2
, ( )
A gh A g dh
h t t h
dt L L
= = +
Since h(t) and Q
(t) are directly proportional, a higher aspect
ratio (AR), (L/H) will help maintain a steadier Q
practical reasons, an AR of 2:1 was chosen for subsequent
design. For the photoactive serpentine area, a residence time
(τ) derived from disinfection kinetics allows sizing the number
of channels required (n
). Table 1 shows the number of
channels required for different channel widths (w
Table 1: n
for various widths, h
=0.5 m, AR=2:1, τ=180 min.
channel width (cm) channels required
Empirical construction showed that w
less than 2 cm caused
constriction of flow, especially around corners, and thus two
channel widths were selected for disinfection studies (2 cm and
4 cm). Pressure losses were calculated with Bernoulli’s
equation (eq. 2),
+ A ÷ = A + + =
f z g p
x z h
) ( ) (
and found negligible due to the low pipe roughness coefficient
of polyethylene (3E-6 m), with a pressure drop of only 0.410
kPa with ]=0.457, L=2 m, n
=2 cm, and v
m/s. Three designs for the photoactive area were compared
empirically, a horizontal serpentine (fig. 2a), a vertical
serpentine (not shown), and a hybrid serpentine (fig. 2b). The
horizontal configuration resulted in no accumulation of water
due to gravitational forces at low flow rates (2.4 mL/s), while
the vertical orientation had problems with trapped air bubbles
which constricted flow. The hybrid design faced neither of
Figure 2: a) horizontal configuration b) hybrid configuration
these problems, although presented a more difficult challenge in
terms of manufacturing, and was chosen for subsequent
experiments and prototype construction.
Disinfection results are shown in figure 3 for 20 mL test
chambers of 2 and 4 cm width. The chambers represent non-
flowing conditions inside each channel in the SODIS Family,
but deemed comparable due to low flowrates (Re = 156).
Figure 3: Disinfection tests for a) w
= 2 cm b) w
= 4 cm
A 4-log reduction in CFU/100 mL is the standard marker of
successful disinfection, and a 4.82 log reduction was observed
in 3 hours (coliforms not detectable after 3 hours) with w
cm, and a 3.22 log reduction when w
= 4 cm. This is most
likely due to the increased characteristic depth of the 4 cm
channel width, also seen in other studies .
In manufacturing the SODIS Family, it was important to
minimize the thickness of the material in order to decrease
sunlight attenuation and scattering, and decrease the necessary
residence time τ. However, as the thickness of the PE
decreases, the strength and durability of the unit will also
decrease. To examine this trade-off, two thicknesses of PE (2
mil, and 6 mil) were analyzed using theoretical calculations and
experimental load testing.
The plastic seals in the SODIS Family are formed by using an
impulse heat sealer to melt the front and back pieces of plastic
together completely. Two orientations of seals were necessary
and investigated: a vertical seal (oriented parallel to the
direction of gravity), and a horizontal seal (oriented
perpendicular to the direction of gravity).
In the theoretical analysis of stress on the SODIS Family unit
design, two stresses are considered: hoop stress (σ
) in the
photoactive area channels due to water pressure, and tensile
stress of the plastic due to weight accumulation.
The hoop stress, defined as (P ) / r t
o = · , (where P is the
pressure, r is the channel radius, and t is the material thickness),
is the stress exerted onto the pipe tangential to the pipe surface
and orthogonal to the length of the pipe. For the SODIS
Family, a maximum of 2 m fluid height leads to a P = 19.62
kPa. Using this value and a 2 cm channel width for 2 mil PE, a
of 7.724 MPa is exerted onto the material in tension.
The tensile stress exerted onto the plastic must also be taken
into account. For 10L (10kg) of water, the stress exerted is
modeled as a point mass hanging on a strip of plastic. Using σ
=F/A the resulting tensile stress σ
exerted is 482.8 kPa. Table 2
shows the associated safety factors compared with manufacturer
specifications in the two loading conditions.
Table 2: Safety factors for hoop and tensile stress
Safety factor ( ) Safety factor (σ
6 mil 3.90 62.14
2 mil 1.30 20.71
Further testing was conducted to determine whether the sealing
would create a weak point in the material in manufacturing the
SODIS Family unit. Tests were conducted on both 2 mil and 6
mil PE. Four samples for each thickness were tested: a sample
with no seal (to be used as a baseline), a full seal in the
horizontal direction, a partial seal in the horizontal direction,
and a vertical seal (fig. 4a).
Figure 4: a) types of seals tested b) loading apparatus
The plastic sample was looped around a container on one end
and secured to a dowel on the other end (fig. 4b). The container
was incrementally loaded with water. Using known sample
dimensions, the tensile stress was determined, while strain was
determined from deformation measurements.
Failure stresses for all samples of both thicknesses were found
to be greater than the theoretical applied tensile stress of 482.8
kPa caused by the weight of the water in the unit, and thus, all
seals can withstand the projected applied forces. Failure stresses
determined from the 2 mil plastic tests were 10.97 MPa and
12.26 MPa for the full and partial seals respectively, and fell
within the range of the yield strength specified by the PE
manufacturer. However, to increase the safety factor, a 2-mil
front (exposed to sunlight) and 6 mil backing is recommended.
To examine the effects of hoop stress on the seals, a test was
conducted to determine the amount of pressure that can be
loaded on the seals in the photoactive chambers. Nitrogen
gas was applied to the chambers until failure. The failure of a
single partial seal was found at approximately 16 kPa, close to
the applied stress from water pressure.
To mitigate the effects of
stress concentrations, the
chambers were sealed in
triplicate (three seals
replacing the single seal)
and failed at 37.67 kPa.
Other designs are in
development, including a
rounded arc at the tip. To
create the arc-tip seals, a
customized heat sealer is
being developed which
operates on power from a 12V car battery, a source that is
accessible in low-income settings.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The SODIS Family, while in need of further R&D, offers
substantial advantages to PET bottles for SODIS. Testing
showed complete disinfection in 3 hours for a channel width of
2 cm, and will thus be chosen for prototype construction. New
sealing methods are being investigated to reduce hoop stress in
the photoactive chamber channels, and full-scale disinfection
testing will be reported soon.
We wish to thank Engineers Without Borders (EWB)-UBC,
Professor Madjid Mohseni, and The Water School
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Triple Seal (pressurized)