Give Now

The Phytofilter Project

The Phytofilter Project

A group of Engineering, Chemistry, and Environmental Science students recognized a problem with the water treatment system at SMU and set out to develop a solution that could be powered by plants. These are the problems the students identified:

  • Water resources are currently compromised by drought and pollution
  • Many institutions have moved to gray water reuse systems
  • SMU recovers condensation and cooler water for reuse in the campus chill water system and the LEED buildings and landscapes
    • Water reuse greatly reduces water demand and cost
    • Gray water at SMU can no longer be reused after significant ion buildup
    • Ion buildup negatively affects LEED landscaping plants and the water infrastructure 
    • Phytofiltration could be used to condition water on campus
      –Increase the number of times water can be recycled for non-potable use
      –Reduce need to transport water to and from city treatment plant
      –Institution saves money 

Their proposed solution:

  • Table-top phytofilter for research
    • Water testing for hardness, iron, nitrate, ammonia, orthophosphate
    • Evaluate plant species and water sources
  • Engineering tools
    • Sensor system to data log pH and conductivity
    • Tank design and 3D printed components

Their engineering process:

Their results: 

Their desired result was to increase SMU water's reusability. They have now developed a functional phytofilter prototype and next hope to test how acorus calamus (sweet flag) will filter SMU gray water. From their developed prototype one can expect reduced concentrations of pH and conductivity, ammonia and nitrate, hardness, and iron in the water samples. 


"The Phytofilter Project: Water Treatment Powered by Plants" was developed by Jewel Lipps, Gwen Carris, Nicholas Saulnier, and Greg Thompson with faculty input from Mr. Niraj Bhagat and won the award for Innovation Gym Showcase in the 2013 Research Improv Competition in Lyle School of Engineering.