Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a low-cost, solar-powered desalination system that could produce up to six liters of drinking water per hour.
How it works: The system, developed in partnership with engineers in China, is inspired by the ocean’s thermohaline circulation, which involves the movement of water in response to heat. Using sunlight to heat saltwater, the device produces and condenses water vapor to yield pure, drinkable water.
Instead of clogging the system, the leftover salt continues to circulate through and out the device, maintaining efficiency. As a result, the device achieves high-water production and salt-rejection rates than other passive desalination technologies currently being tested.
What the researchers are saying: The engineers estimate that when scaled to the size of a small suitcase, the device could produce four to six liters of potable drinking water per hour. At such scale and performance, the system makes a more cost-effective alternative to tap water.
“For the first time, it is possible for water, produced by sunlight, to be even cheaper than tap water,” said co-author Lenan Zhang, a research scientist at MIT’s Device Research Laboratory. The device would also last for several years before requiring replacement parts.
Looking ahead: The new system holds promise for addressing a lack of access to clean drinking water. With the scalability and adaptability of its modular design, the device makes it suitable for household use, particularly in coastal areas.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Joule.
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