Luciano Torriani designs an inexpensive electricty and water purification system | Aga Khan Academies

Luciano Torriani designs an inexpensive electricty and water purification system

11 March 2021

Luciano Torriani, a Year 10 student at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, has created an inexpensive electricity supply and water purification system. His invention is titled Rural Electrical and Purification Systems (REPS), and is his personal project for the culmination of the Middle Years Programme.  

A resident of Kwale county, Luciano designed REPS with the hope that it would serve the communities near his home. Basic utility shortages are common in rural parts of Kwale, creating difficult living conditions for residents. “The constant scarcity of electricity and clean water incentivised me to undertake this project. It was sad to see my community struggling for basic needs and I felt obliged to make a change,” said Luciano.  

In practice, REPS has two components: an electrical system and a water filter. For the electrical system, power is harnessed from a bleach and water mixture through a copper cathode and aluminum foil anode, powering a lightbulb without a battery or other energy source. The filter contains a layering of common materials including rocks, grass, charcoal, and sand, which remove impurities from the water and prepare it for further decontamination through boiling. Both of these can be constructed at the cost of only a few shillings.

An intrepid student, Luciano combined his knowledge of electrical engineering, physics, and chemistry to create REPS, and also collaborated with electricians and community members throughout the project. He was driven not only by his desire to help the rural Kwale community but also by experiences he had in school and at home.  

“I would say that my main inspiration came from my childhood exposure to electrical systems and love for physics and chemistry. As a child, my dad had me observe his manual work fixing car batteries for his business,” Luciano said. “Similarly, mixing chemicals and performing abstract experiments in school contributed to my excitement about the project.  

Luciano’s personal project advisor is physics teacher Phelesters Obendo. Ms Phelesters worked with Luciano throughout the entire project, helping him achieve his vision. “He took time to design and redesign [REPS] each time we met to utilise local material at a small-scale level,” Ms Phelesters said. She added: “Bringing together like-minded students will be a great move in applying science to the community.”  

Luciano has been able to share his project with various communities in Kwale, reaching over 100 people including residents of Funzi Island, where he resides. To emphasise the project’s simplicity and cost-effectiveness, Luciano constructed an electrical system in front of the residents in a few minutes. 

“In the beginning they were very skeptical… they just thought I was making it up. Many people online promise free electricity,” Luciano said. “When it worked, they were very shocked and very happy. Many actually contacted me right after to ask me for the blueprints.” 

Luciano credits his success with REPS in part to the strength of his IB education, which pushed him to think outside the box. “My learning as an IB student has definitely contributed to my open-mindedness, thinking, and inquiring attitudes which I practiced throughout my project. I feel incredibly appreciative for the education and opportunities at the school, and it is one of the many reasons I am who I am today,” said Luciano.