Polymer Membranes Roadshow. Foto | Tom Jeltes

Drinking water and energy from an ice cream car

If you fancy a glass of freshly purified water or a live demonstration of ‘blue energy’ these next few weeks, you can go to the hall of the Helix building. Here, you’ll find two ‘ice cream cars’ that provide an insight into two applications by the Membrane Materials and Polymers (MM/P) group as part of the 100% Future Friendly campaign.

The exhibition will travel across campus for the next six months and will later also be presented during the open days, says professor Membrane Materials and Processes (MM/P) Kitty Nijmeijer during Thursday morning’s modest opening ceremony of the Polymer Membranes Roadshow. Visitors to the exhibition can manually pump ‘ground water’ through a membrane that purifies water, and fill a cup of drinking water via a small faucet – as demonstrated by Nijmeijer and her colleague Zandie Borneman for this occasion. The membranes in this installation are applied on a large scale throughout the world to produce drinking water from ground and surface water.

The other car contains a kind of mini-sized power plant that generates electrical current – at the push of a button – by mixing fresh and salt water. This ‘blue energy’ then puts a ventilator on top of the car in motion. The installation is based on a project in which researchers, including those of MM/P, have been testing this method of sustainable energy generation on the Afsluitdijk since 2015.


The polished presentation took six months to prepare and was initiated by Hannie Horvath of the Communication Expertise Centre with the cooperation of Peter Minten of TU/e’s Equipment & Prototype Centre (EPC). The accompanying video material with explanations on the applied technology was produced by bureau Witgoed en van Bontewas, and the idea for the styling of the cars (as old-fashioned ‘ice cream cars’) came from design studio Lucas & Lucas.

EPC’s Peter Minten was also the technician in charge of the first road show, which centered around Solar Energy and was set up as part of last year’s 100% Future Friendly campaign. He can’t say how many hours he spent constructing the cars. “It took me more time than I expected. We normally don’t use wood, but opt for aluminum and plexiglass instead. Building an old-fashioned ice cream was something different for a change, that was fun.” The manual pump was his idea, he says.


Even while the festive opening ceremony was still in progress, those involved started a discussion on possible improvements. “Some things still need a bit of finetuning,” says membrane expert Borneman. “When we first tested the blue energy installation it looked as if the ventilator wasn’t running – but when I looked more closely, I realized it was running so fast that I couldn’t see the blades. So, we adjusted that. And we also ordered membranes with smaller pores for the purification system, because we don’t want it to get plugged with debris.” That doesn’t cause a problem during short demonstrations, he explains. However, the intention is to use these ice cream cars for years to come.

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