Student invents self-cleaning water bottle

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BYU student Willy Hogan has always loved water, and anyone watching the young surfer carve Laguna Beach’s waves would agree. Now, Hogan is taking unique strides to make clean water accessible and reduce marine debris through a self-cleaning water bottle he invented.

The ocean is an important part of Hogan’s life. (Kendall Clawson)

Hogan grew up in Laguna Beach where he spent his free time in the ocean. “I’ve developed a very strong relationship with the environment, specifically the ocean and sea life,” he said. 

He was an ocean lifeguard for Laguna Beach for three years, where he enforced ocean safety and ocean preservation acts and helped preserve sea life. “I’m just so crazy about water,” Hogan said. “I think it’s the most essential part of life.”

Though Hogan spent almost every day outdoors, he was haunted by microscopic organisms — germs. “When I was younger, I would not grab door handles; I would never share food or drinks,” he said. “Public areas, buses, planes all freaked me out. I thought germs were out to get me.” 

Then one day on a camping trip, Hogan was given a UV wand that purified water. “I was super fascinated that a UV light wand could get rid of my primary worry of bacteria in my water,” he said. That led to the idea for the Luma Bottle.

Hogan works with a Luma Bottle by his side. (Erika Magaoay)

By the time Hogan came to BYU in 2017, he had moved on from some of his more extreme bacteria-avoidance behaviors. But when he began to notice an incessant odor in his Hydroflask, he began to question the cleanliness of his bottle and the water inside.

“I looked it up,” Hogan recalled. “I was surprised to know that a lot of bacteria — more than your dog toy at home — is growing in your bottle.” Knowing that the smell was created by a buildup of germs, he came up with a solution: integrating UV light in the bottle. 

Hogan knew he needed help bringing his vision to life. He immediately signed up for the Student Innovator of the Year competition to receive funding to start. A friend recommended Brett Fotheringham, a BYU student studying mechanical engineering at the time, as someone who could help him design the bottle.

When the two first met in the step-down lounge in the Clyde Engineering Building, Fotheringham recalled being impressed by two things: Hogan’s vision and youth. Hogan had recently returned from a mission in Milan, Italy, and was in his first semester at BYU. “He was super young and I felt like I was five years older than him, but I wasn’t,” Fotheringham said. “He was really dedicated to delivering something that accomplished what he was thinking about, and I really liked that.”

That year, they got together each week to bring Luma Bottle to life. “I studied mechanical engineering, but I didn’t know a lot about UV light sterilization,” Fotheringham said. They read scientific papers and reached out to professors who could help. 

“It goes a long way, just opening your mouth,” Hogan said. “If you try and set up an appointment with the professor, they’ll meet with you. They’ll tell you who to go to. If you just walk into a building and talk to a student, you’ll be surprised to know how much they know and what skills they have. It was so much easier than I thought.” 

Fotheringham recalled the first time they tested the idea.

“If I’m not mistaken, we actually built this bottle using the type for keeping beer cold,” he said. “We used exactly that because you can screw off the bottom, and so we put all of the lights and electronics in the bottom screw off bit.”

When lab results came back, the two found out that their bottle killed over 99 percent of bacteria according to Fotheringham. “I was just so excited that it actually worked almost exactly how we predicted,” he said. “It was really cool to see that number and the email from them. Like, ‘wait, this could actually work.'”

Hogan utilized campus resources and connections to develop the Luma Bottle. (Erika Magaoay)

Once Hogan realized what the bottle could do, he saw its potential to change lives, specifically in third world countries where access to clean water is sparse.

“If I can make this work, I’ll feel like I’ve fulfilled and done something that follows my passion,” he said. “It’s a long process, and it might take a lot of years. But I’m getting close to that.” 

For now, a portion of Luma Bottle’s proceeds is donated to Waves for Water, a non-profit organization that develops clean water sources for areas without.

“To be able to have a tiny bit of advantage or power in my hands to make a difference, I’m just running for it,” Hogan said. “I want to help make a difference and bring clean water to people because I think it’s so sad that so many people don’t have access to it.”

Hogan is also hopeful that his water bottle will keep plastic out of the ocean.

“So many water bottles are used every day and it’s really unnecessary,” he said. “A lot of those bottles end up in the ocean. It turns it to micro-plastics, it harms the sea life and then it ends up where we are, into the food that we eat. It’s not good for us and for the environment.” 

Eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year and that number could double by 2025, according to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

BYU plant and wildlife professor Steve Petersen said much of the plastic debris remains afloat on the surface of the ocean, creating swirling masses of trash.

“It makes sense considering how much is produced, how much is discarded,” Petersen said. “And if over the years we keep dumping all this plastic into the ocean, it’s going to accumulate. Some will settle down but a bunch of it’s going to stay right there.”

Hogan is hopeful that the Luma Bottle will encourage people to eliminate single-use plastic bottles. “All companies are attempting to solve that issue just by creating a reusable bottle,” he said. “I’ve made it very loud and clear that’s who we are. We are concerned about it, and we’re going to do everything we can to help solve this problem.”

According to Hogan, people are already ordering the Luma Bottle, with over $100,000 raised on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The bottles are scheduled to be shipped in Summer 2020.

Hogan is hopeful for the future of Luma Bottle and is happy knowing he’s made an impact in the world through the process. “I’m so excited no matter what,” he said.

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