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Unique irrigation system wins Dyson award

13 November, 2011

Swinburne University of Technology industrial design graduate Ed Linacre has won the 2011 James Dyson Award, the leading international student design award for his Airdrop irrigation system.

In developing the promising new irrigation-by-condensation technique, Linacre has captured the attention of some of the world’s top designers and commercial developers in the US, Asia and the Middle East.

Linacre’s Airdrop system was developed during his honours year in Swinburne's Faculty of Design and after an arduous internship in a top German design firm.

High levels of farmer suicide along Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin drove Linacre to turn to ancient cooling techniques to create a new sub-surface irrigation system for drought-ravaged landscapes worldwide.

A newspaper article highlighting weekly farmer suicides was the inspiration for the project. But a conversation with a struggling Mildura orange farmer zeroed Linacre in on the blight of precious water escaping into the atmosphere from drying agricultural soils.

Linacre credits his Swinburne training with providing the rigour underpinning the design.

"One of the subjects in my honours year was a class just on research methods and techniques and ways to thoroughly dive into your topic. It’s a 10,000 word thesis with proper referencing which is a challenge for an industrial design student, but that gave me a really solid basis for proper product development," he said.

From his research, he found water vapour was so abundant in the atmosphere it plays a vital role in trapping the heat necessary for life on earth, but it was evaporating from the soil where it was needed by farmers to grow crops.

After experiments trying to capture water with big canopies over plants, he looked to the deep past where tribesmen would cool their huts with small underground tunnels.

"They were using the soil underground to cool the air, but water was also produced as well and they had to create catchments so I thought, ‘there it was.’," Linacre said.

Initial experiments with highly temperature conductive copper piping to condense water vapour from the air weren’t successful until copper wool was inserted to maximise the condensation area.

A small wind-turbine collects the condensed water in an underground trap, and solar energy is used to pump the water directly to plant roots. The prototype system can already deliver up to a litre of water per day depending upon prevailing atmospheric humidity.

Linacre credits Swinburne’s Mark Strachan and Simon Jackson as "phenomenal and inspirational" teachers, and his Swinburne-organised student exchange to German university, Hawk HF, for his philosophy of meticulous and research-driven product development.

As the winner of the James Dyson Award Linacre will receive £10,000. A further £10,000 will be awarded to Swinburne's Faculty of Design.

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