NM Tech Student Team Assesses Feasibility of New Filtering Unit, Dec. 7, 2007


by George Zamora

Right: Standing next to a prototype of a New Mexico Tech -developed SMZ/ZVI water-filtering system are (left to right) Tech team members Ben Simpson, senior majoring in management technology, Vincent Brandon, senior majoring in mechanical engineering, and Peter Anselmo, Tech management professor and Team faculty advisor.

SOCORRO, N.M., Dec. 7, 2007 – A New Mexico Tech team comprised of five Tech undergraduates is working to assess the commercial feasibility of a new water-filtration system which was developed using technology pioneered by a hydrologist at the research university.

Under the project, which is part of the National Science Foundation-funded New Mexico-Chihuahua Partnership for Innovation, students enrolled in New Mexico Tech’s management and mechanical engineering departments also are collaborating with colleagues at New Mexico State University and three universities in Mexico to comprehensively test the filtration system, which uses a surfactant-modified zeolite/zero-valent iron (SMZ/ZVI) water-filtration medium.

The novel SMZ/ZVI filtering system was developed in large part by New Mexico Tech hydrology professor and researcher Robert Bowman and was patented by Tech.

The current version of the water-filtration system being tested uses gravity to force water through the filtering medium, which is housed in a large fiberglass canister that resembles an oxygen tank.

Previous tests conducted at New Mexico Tech show that SMZ/ZVI water-filtering systems can effectively be used to remove undesirable contaminants and metals, such as arsenic, from water. In addition, the filtering system was shown to also remove bacteria and viruses from waters being tested.

“In projects like this, two of the key variables for assessing commercialization potential are scalability and cost,” said Peter Anselmo, chair of the New Mexico Tech Department of Management and faculty advisor for the team project.

“We are testing both these factors with the filtration system we’ve built, as we continue to sample water on a daily basis to see whether the SMZ/ZVI medium, which works great in the lab, will work as well with larger volumes of water passing through it,” Anselmo related.

The New Mexico Tech team recently was the beneficiary of test equipment donated to the project by Sandia National Laboratories.

“This recently donated equipment will provide an additional means of testing scalability of various configurations of the filtration medium that we can then use to supplement the testing currently being conducted by our partners in Mexico,” Anselmo said.

“If it is found to work under an assortment of various real-world conditions, then we need to know how long or how much water volume a given amount of filtering medium can handle,” he said. “The latter is obviously related to the cost issue.”

Anselmo pointed out that the commercial-feasibility study being conducted by the New Mexico Tech students is already international in scope, with actual water testing being conducted in Mexico, and that, once fully developed, the water-filtration system could be used worldwide.

In addition to water testing, the New Mexico Tech undergrads—management majors Jonathan Gardner, Duong Hung, and Ben Simpson, along with mechanical engineering major Vincent Brandon and electrical engineering/ physics major Robert Rayas — are also involved in developing related marketing plans and negotiating with prospective providers of raw materials and manufacturing equipment.

New Mexico Tech team members also are continuing to work in close conjunction with Bowman, keeping the filtering system’s inventor appraised of their progress with the project.

“The areas we are currently targeting for field-testing this system are border areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, where either the groundwater or other drinking water sources — or both — are contaminated with various combinations of metallic, bacterial, and viral contaminants,” Anselmo said.

The New Mexico-Chihuahua Partnership for Innovation has allowed New Mexico Tech students to interact one-on-one with students from the other collaborating universities, the team’s faculty advisor added.

“It’s been so successful that plans are underway to continue the Partnership beyond the existing projects’ completion date of May 2008, so that the opportunities enjoyed by the current student team will be made available to more students in the future,” Anselmo said.

“Commercialization of technology and creation of new technology driven business are crucial to the economic future of New Mexico,” Anselmo continued, “and projects like this one also help us develop the managerial talent we need to work with and nurture to run the new local companies that we hope will be created as a result of these types of projects and partnerships.”

In addition to their ongoing assessment of the commercial feasibility of the SMZ/ZVI water-filtration system, the team of New Mexico Tech students recently made a presentation on their research project at last month’s New Mexico-Chihuahua Partnership for Innovation conference, held at university’s Macey Conference Center in Socorro.