Engineering students secure top prize out of UK universities for sustainable water system design

A water gathering system designed by Engineering students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has beaten stiff opposition from more than a thousand entries in this year’s Engineering Without Borders (EWB) competition. 

Second-year students Pawel Szczygiel, Michael Billington, Brian Tang and Pranay Dalvi secured the top prize out of all UK teams, coming second only to Ireland’s University College Dublin who were named the overall winners of the Engineering for People Design Challenge 2019/20.  

EWB design 2019-20
Engineering students designed a sustainable water gathering system

Now in its ninth year, EWB encourages university students to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their engineering by inviting them to propose a solution that could be applied to a real-life problem affecting people on a global scale. 

The EWB Design Challenge for 2019/20 focused on Makers Valley, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. As a result of rapid population growth and economic inequality, the area is facing housing shortages, inconsistent access to electricity and water and problems with waste collection. 

The DMU students developed a sustainable water storage system that enables households to reuse rainwater by collecting it through two gutters, filtering it into a tank and repurposing it. 

“We know there is a shortage of water in Johannesburg, so we wanted to design something that would enable households to use rainfall,” explained Pawel (22), a Mechatronics student from Poland. 

Pawel Szczygiel was the team leader on the project

“We had to think outside the box and consider other areas of engineering, including construction and architecture. That's the great thing about this project and the EWB competition, it makes you look at things from a different angle. 

“Throughout the project we always tried to keep in mind the people who would be using our system and how it would benefit them. For example, in Johannesburg they have a lot of blackouts, so we knew we couldn’t use electricity in our design.” 

By harvesting rainwater for greywater use, the system would reduce tap water use by 40 litres a day and because it does not rely on electricity, it could also save households up to 25% on bills.  

EWB design 2019-20  2
The system reuses rainwater by collecting it through two gutters

Judges praised the team’s great depth of research and understanding of the roots of the water safety issue not only in Maker’s Valley, but South Africa as a whole.  

“An important part of the project was to research everything and provide evidence for the statements we made,” continued Pawel.  

“I’ll take a lot of things away from this project. One of those things is the team leader experience I gained – I learned about the way other students approach their work and how to work together with those who do things differently to me. 

“I also gained so much experience outside of my discipline and that is important to me. I like to continually develop my skills.” 

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DMU first participated in the EWB competition in 2014, after incorporating it into the second-year Project Management module. The university has had a team invited to the finals every year since joining – with two teams in the final in 2016/17 and last year! 

As runners up in the competition, the team from DMU will receive a £500 educational bursary to share between them. 

“It was a big surprise when we were named second place,” added Pawel. “There was a lot of difficult competition and the other teams had come up with some really great designs.” 

Head of DMU’S School of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Professor Ljiljana Marjanovic-Halburd, said she was “beyond proud” of the students’ achievements. 

“Coming second verifies our school’s teaching excellence,” she said. “I believe our unique selling point is our teaching excellence informed by our research excellence – the module leaders are internationally recognised researchers and we are a research-active school addressing global problems around sustainability. 

“Every year since joining the competition we have done better and better which is an indication of the excellent reflective learning by our course leaders and lecturers – they have really refined their knowledge. 

“If you compare us with the other finalists, we have a broader entry tariff for engineering courses at DMU. So, on paper, their students could be seen to be ahead of ours. But we are the underdogs.  

“There may be bigger schools but I really think that we are one of the top schools for engineering in the UK.”  

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at Engineers Without Borders UK, said: “We had a tremendous response from this year's Design Challenge with some truly remarkable solutions and ideas that illustrated the students growing understanding of global responsibility in engineering design.  

"Our judges were incredibly impressed with the student’s approach, and their attention to the social, environmental and economic considerations within Maker Valley. Some judges were so impressed they could even foresee the community taking inspiration from the ideas to make a reality.”  


DMU students have been named finalists every year since 2014

Over 7,000 students have been involved in the 2019/20 challenge internationally with the South African and USA competitions due to have their grand finals later in the year.  

To date, over 40,000 undergraduates have taken part in the Engineering for People Design Challenge.

Posted on Monday 20th July 2020

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