Professor Competes in National Sustainable Expo To Fund Research for Water Purification System in the Philippines

James Patrick Abulencia, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering at Manhattan College, is currently testing a sustainable technology in his native country, the Philippines.

James Patrick Abulencia, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering at Manhattan College, is concerned about the lack of affordable resources available to bring clean water to rural communities and, as a result, is currently testing a sustainable technology in his native country, the Philippines. With the help of a research team from De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines, and Shannon O’Brien, a chemical engineering graduate student at Manhattan College, Abulencia presented how the combination of coconut shells, grapefruit seed extract and bamboo can clean contaminated water at the EPA’s National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C., from April 15-17.

Starting in August 2010, Abulencia and his team received a year of funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Program to begin designing the biodegradable water purification solution for the town of Nagcarlan, Philippines. The research team developed a service-learning program for chemical engineering students from Manhattan College and De La Salle University to collaborate by testing the town’s existing water source for contaminants, and researching the best method to remove them. Since beginning the research in August, the group developed a prototype integrating a column of bamboo with coconut shell derived activated carbon and grapefruit seed extract that will be delivered to families in Nagcarlan in June of this year.

“The beauty of this design is that all of the materials are completely natural,” said Abulencia. “Because of this, filters can be returned to the environment with minimal impact, compared to those using plastics or harsh chemicals.”

Susan Gallardo, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering, was the representative from De La Salle University that attended the competition with Abulencia and O’Brien. The National Sustainable Design Expo is part of the EPA’s Earth Day, and EPA, green businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and college students from across the country came together to display their efforts to protect the planet.