A demonstration of the SynthaSift Laundry Microplastic Filter developed by first-year sustainable energy engineering students.

First-year SFU students develop engineering solutions for sustainable development

May 05, 2021

First-year SFU students from the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering (SEE) are already putting their technical skills into action and developing solutions to help build a sustainable world. Their innovations demonstrate readiness to create solutions for issues in agriculture, home printing and microplastics in laundry.

In their first cornerstone project-based course titled “Integrated Energy Solution I,” SEE students are introduced to engineering design skills and the principles of sustainability. They are given a general perspective on engineering design process in order to gain a deeper understanding of technology and its potential long-term impact. Equally important, the course also teaches students to think critically through the process of creating, testing, documenting and analyzing the physical embodiment of their engineering design.

Throughout the term, teams are set up and tasked to develop a simple product or a solution to a problem and present their results to the class. The purpose of the project is to encourage students to apply the technical skills they have learned to create a product that has the potential to alleviate the environmental impact that current and similar technology may have. Students are then required to present and communicate their projects visually, verbally and in writing.

“In order for students to gain an interdisciplinary perspective in this global climate crisis, we are here not only to equip them with a strong technical foundation, but also to help them improve upon their interpersonal and communication skills,” says Mehran Ahmadi, who is the associate director, lecturer and undergraduate curriculum chair in SEE.

“Working in a team will also encourage students from different background to come together to solve problems - as this reflects what the real working world is like,” Ahmadi adds.

SynthaSift, Automated Irrigation Monitoring (AIM) and SustainInk are just three examples of the innovative solutions the students have proposed through this course this year.

SynthaSift was developed as an inline laundry microplastic filter, using materials such as lint and plastic filters, and biodegradable polylactic acid to minimize the environmental impact right at the design stage. Another team developed the AIM system that continuously monitors conditions such as moisture level drop in soil. The system would then notify the operator when water or irrigation is needed. With economic and environmental sustainability in mind, SustainInk is a reusable and refillable ink reservoir that can be fully integrated with any home printer that uses a cartridge system. This product was developed with accessibility to students and low-income working professionals in mind.

The SEE program is developed to train and prepare the next generation of leaders in technology to develop sustainable solutions in the ever-evolving local, national and international landscapes, while enhancing the resilience of the planet. The program endeavours to model best practices and leadership in the pursuit of ecological, social and economic sustainability.

As the instructor of the course, Ahmadi also walks away inspired.

“I look forward to having their exciting ideas and bright minds challenge my knowledge and limits in the field of sustainable energy engineering.”

See examples of projects developed by first-year SEE students:

Automated Irrigation Monitoring (AIM) System

Team: Mackenzie Calder, Paula Themmen, Erfan Ferdosian, Jacob Erickson, Harleen Dhillon, Rajat Agrawal

Summary: The AIM system is a feedback control system that continuously monitors agricultural soil conditions through the use of a sensor unit, and a user interface. The interface is designed to read the soil moisture data and notifies an operator when irrigation of the cropland is required. The interface can then control an irrigation system, supplying water until a desired soil moisture level is detected by the system. View project video and read full summary here.


Team: Eddy Sanderson, Alia Gola, Erin Flood, Dana Kadoura, Ryan Cordoni, Aiden Rudy, Akash Bains

Summary: Our team created a biodegradable conversion kit for home printers that turns a traditional ink cartridge printer into a reusable, refillable ink reservoir. By creating a refillable system, home printers become more affordable and sustainable by cutting down on plastic waste, and the use of expensive often unrecyclable cartridges. View project video and read full summary here.

SynthaSift Laundry Microplastic Filter

Team: Elizabeth Salvosa, Braden Harding, Changle Yu, Cyrus Urbanowicz, Daisy Chen, Mishak Taggart

Summary: Laundry systems are leading sources of synthetic material introduced into our biosphere. To help mitigate plastic pollution, we designed the SynthaSift, an inline laundry microplastic filter. The prototype was 3D printed using biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA), to minimize the environmental impact at each stage of our design. View project video and read full summary here.