• By The Financial District

$4 Solar Desalination System Produces A Family's Daily Water Needs

Desalination is being explored as a way to solve the shortages of drinking water that plague much of the world, but it has a few issues to iron out. A new design for a solar-powered desalination device prevents the build-up of salt, making it an efficient and affordable system.

Photo Insert: Two test devices of a new desalination system

Just $4 worth of materials should be enough for a device that can provide a family's daily drinking water needs, Michael Irving reported recently for New Atlas.

Fouling is one of the main problems in desalination systems. As salt and other impurities are being filtered out of the water, that material tends to build up on membranes or other surfaces in the device, requiring parts to be regularly cleaned, or worse, replaced.

Wicking materials are among the most commonly fouled parts, so for the new project, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University set out to design a wick-free solar desalination device. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Intended to float on the surface of a body of saltwater, the system is comprised of several layers. A material with 2.5-mm perforations draws water up from the reservoir below, forming a thin layer of water on top.

All the news: Business man in suit and tie smiling and reading a newspaper near the financial district.

With the help of a dark material that absorbs heat from sunlight, this thin layer of water is heated until it evaporates, so it can then be condensed onto a sloped surface for collection as pure water.

The salt stays behind in the remaining water, but this is where the team’s new idea kicks in. The holes in the perforated material are just the right size to allow for a natural convective circulation to occur.

Science & technology: Scientist using a microscope in laboratory in the financial district.

The warmer water above the material – which is now far denser with salt – is drawn back down into the colder body of water below. A new layer of water is drawn up to the top of the material and the cycle begins again.

In test devices, the team says that this technique can achieve over 80 percent efficiency in converting solar energy to water vapor, even when the starting water had salt concentrations up to 20 percent by weight. No salt crystals were detected in the device after a week of operation.

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