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.” Β Sure, 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

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Image credit: MIT News

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