Finalist 2023

SAF.ER - Solar Aqua Filter Emergency Response

Zoë Ryan-Ferdowsian / Chung Hei Heidi Chan / Kristian Slatter-Jensen / Zach Daniells / RMIT University

SAFER - A solar powered water filtration device that is portable, reliable and efficient.

SAF.ER - Solar Aqua Filter Emergency Response
A solar powered water filtration device that is portable, reliable and efficient.

Design Brief:

Thousands of Australians face bushfires, floods and cyclones every year. Bushfires and floods are the most significant natural disasters occuring in Australia, and their incidence and effect are of increasing concern. In 2022, 68% of Australians were living in an area that was covered by a natural disaster declaration, and the 2019-2020 Bushfire Royal Commission stated 'climate change will continue to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters across Australia'.

After a bushfire, clean water is one of the most important resources, to ensure people have safe drinking water. The ash and dust produced during bushfires pollute the water in the area, making it unsafe to drink. Country and remote areas are most affected by the difficulty of a lack of clean drinking water, due to the ensuing limitations in accessibility.


This project was developed by:

  • Zoë Ryan-Ferdowsian
  • Heide Chan
  • Kristian Slatter-Jensen
  • Zach Daniells

Design Process

We began with a process of articulating our design problem, by posing the following question relating to solar power generation: "where and when is solar power most useful?".

Our research led us to emergency response situations, to instances where power is unavailable, usually temporarily, while services are being restored. We surveyed emergency response workers and residents in areas of natural disasters, and gained an understanding of the most pertinent and immediate needs of people in emergency response situations. In addition, we discovered that isolated communities/homes and remote areas of Australia are most at risk with regard to access to emergency services.

The idea to create a solar powered water filter became clear after an interview with the SES, Regional Operations Manager. Safe, clean drinking water is one of the most critical needs of people in areas of natural disasters, including both bushfires and floods. Drinking water is supplied as bottled water, transported by truck or helicopter to staging areas and individual communities. Aside from the negative environmental considerations of disposable, plastic water bottles, this current practice has many limitations with regard to transport restrictions to remote locations. This consideration further influenced our design intent to ensure portability and ease of transport & delivery.

Design considerations included ease of use, compliance with OHS, durability of external casing and handle, and overall weight.
We 3D printed a scale model and looked to best practice of water filtering products. To establish estimates of operational capacity we performed water pump test rates with existing (on market) solar powered water pumps.

Design Excellence

At the core of it’s design is collaboration with the sun - harnessing the power of solar - and it’s effective implementation would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels due to the transition from current disposable, plastic water bottles. The battery in the unit ensures usability when there is not adequate solar power available.

The device is housed in a robust polyurethane casing with a carry handle, a similar size to a briefcase. Inside is a 140W solar panel, 12V water pump, and a water storage baldder. A standard hose is fitted onto the unit and water flows through a multi-stage filter water purification system. This filtration system consists of; a large particulate filtration membrane to remove sediments and debris, an activated carbon purifier to absorb organic chemicals, and UV steriliser to kill any viruses, bacteria and spores.

The SAF.ER device is designed for replacement of individual componentry as required. An estimated flow of 2-5L/minute* provides safe drinking water to the internal water bladder or directly to a standard hose outlet. This is important, as often times in crises, taps remain functional, however the water source itself is contaminated. Users may employ their own taps to produce safe drinking water with use of the device

Design Innovation

Alternative water filter units are either very large - such as a (towed) wheel-base trailer, or very small, mobile hiking water bladders and filter drinking straws.

The SAF.ER unit is portable enough to be easily delivered to central or remote locations, and robust enough to supply a household with safe, clean drinking water for an extended period of time. Ease of use ensures that people of all ages and abilities have access to clean water, and removing the reliance on single use plastic water bottles.

Design Impact

Thousands of Australians face bushfires, floods and cyclones every year. Bushfires and floods are the most significant natural disasters occuring in Australia, and their incidence and effect are of increasing concern. In 2022, 68% of Australians were living in an area that was covered by a natural disaster declaration, and the 2019-2020 Bushfire Royal Commission stated 'climate change will continue to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters across Australia'.

The first hand accounts from residents living in country NSW during 'Black Summer' (2019-2020) had a significant and lasting impact on each of us, and we felt compelled to use our design skills to help find solutions to mitigate future hardships.

After a bushfire, clean water is one of the most important resources, to ensure people have safe drinking water. The ash and dust produced during bushfires pollute the water in the area, making it unsafe to drink. Country and remote areas are most affected by a lack of clean drinking water. They often have no power, so rely on fuel pumps to provide water from tanks, however when the fuel supply is exhausted they are left with limited options for safe water supply.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The SAF.ER device is designed for replacement of individual components as required, ensuring that the life cycle of the unit will be extended and not limited to the failure of a single component.

The design process ensured that as new technology develops, for example solar panel materiality & efficiency, the provisions for upgrading the unit, have been considered.

End of life circularity has been considered, as the primary components are single-material construction, eg. polyurethane.

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