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A Solar Distiller As A Thermal Systems Design Build Test Project

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Incorporating Projects into the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.118.1 - 11.118.10



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Paper Authors


Gregg Dixon U.S. Coast Guard Academy

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Gregg Dixon is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He received an M.S. degree in Engineering Science in 1966 from Stanford University in a combined B.S./M.S program. He received a Ph.D. in M.E. from Stanford in 1970. He previously served in the U.S. Navy, taught at California State University, Northridge and served as a consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Solar Distiller as a Thermal Systems Design-Build-Test Project


In an effort to improve Mechanical Engineering (ME) students’ ability to design and realize thermal systems, a hands-on design project has been developed for a junior level thermal systems design course. Previous presentations1 have reported on the development of three projects with an emphasis on the design of a solar water-heating device. This paper describes, in more detail, experience in implementing a project to design, construct and test devices using solar energy to distill rather than just to heat water.

In this project, teams are given a limited set of materials and specifications that constrain their design options while giving them plenty of opportunity for creativity. The materials required are inexpensive (insulating foam, tubes, tape, clear plastic sheet, aluminum foil, plywood sheet, hoses and hose clamps, etc.). The teams are required to develop conceptual designs and analyze their design in three successive levels of complexity before they are allowed to begin construction. Teams are required to evaluate alternatives and base design decisions on their analyses. The culmination of the project is a test in which the students’ systems are tested against their predictions and in which they compete to see which team’s design performs the best. Experience in implementing this project indicates that it provides a useful opportunity for students to exercise their analytical skills in thermal sciences in the context of a design project.

Project Assignment Description


Design, model, construct and test a small solar water distillation system. In this assignment, you will work in teams of three to design a solar water distillation system using given materials and meeting specific design constraints. Your design objective is to design and construct a system that will distill the most water during a five-hour period. To meet this objective, you will need to develop an analytical model of your system and modify your design on the basis of your modeling analyses. You will then construct your system and test it under prescribed conditions.

Design Constraints

You may use only the materials provided or allowed for each team. The maximum area for water storage is 4 ft2. No pumps or energy sources other than the sun may be used. You may not add water to your system during the collection period.

Dixon, G. (2006, June), A Solar Distiller As A Thermal Systems Design Build Test Project Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--89

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