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Published on October 15th, 2010 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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How to Turn Sunlight into Water: the Portable Solar Desalination Plant

solar desalination plant

MIT's concept of a solar-powered desalination plant

Editor’s note: This post is sustainablog’s contribution to Blog Action Day 2010; this year’s topic is water.

When island nations experience disaster (think the Haitian earthquake), the victims are often faced with a cruel irony summed up (in a different context) by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink.” ┬áSure, aid organizations and other countries can deliver bottled water to address the immediate need, but that’s not a sustainable long-term solution; people need regular access to clean drinking water as they’re rebuilding whatever infrastructure existed prior to the disaster.

A group of engineers at MIT’s Field and Space Robotics Laboratory has been at work on a solution that not only addresses the need for water in these situations, but also the likely lack of readily-available power: an easily portable, affordable solar-powered desalination plant.

Water Desalination That’s Appropriate & Affordable

At this point, the team has developed a working prototype that “is capable of producing 80 gallons of water a day in a variety of weather conditions.” They envision a system that

  • Would cost about $8000 to construct
  • That could provide about 1000 gallons of water per day, and
  • That is sized for rapid deployment, and essentially “turnkey” in its operation.

Of course, disaster wouldn’t be a prerequisite for use of such desalination equipment: it would be valuable in any part of the world where clean water and readily-available power were in short supply. And, of course, the team has taken that inevitable question about solar power — “What happens when you don’t have full sunlight?” — into account in their design: the video below demonstrates the system at work on a partly cloudy day in Boston:

Affordable, appropriate, and readily available… sounds like all the right design contexts. Of course, always interested in hearing from the engineering crowd (and that includes you, Bobby B.)… does this seem like a workable concept?

via MIT News

Looking for ways to clean up your own water? Check out our current listings of water purification products, including filters, water testing supplies, and distillers.

Image credit: MIT News



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



2 Responses to How to Turn Sunlight into Water: the Portable Solar Desalination Plant

  1. Pingback: Portable Solar Desalination Plant from MIT [VIDEO] – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views

  2. Pingback: Portable Solar Desalination Plant from MIT [VIDEO] – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views

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