Solar-powered desalination for disaster areas

MIT researchers construct a device that makes seawater drinkable.

Drinking seawater is not a good idea. It tastes bad, dehydrates you and can even make you crazy. But during a disaster situation, options are low. The power's out, and clean water is in short supply.

Should the disaster occur near a coastline (the Haiti earthquake, for example), turning saltwater into drinking water could be a lifesaver. MIT researchers hope to make this recovery scenario possible with their new solar-powered desalination system. Running 100 percent on the sun's energy, the system's many pumps usher water through a polymer membrane at high pressure, filtering the water's minerals and salts via reverse osmosis.

According to its developers, the prototype can make 80 gallons of potable water each day. Should the weather be cloudy, the system's sensors alert its operators to make adjustments to control the pumps and valves, for continued filtration. They now plan to construct a larger, $8,000 system with a daily output of 1,000 gallons. The team estimates a cargo plane could haul 24 such units to a disaster area, quenching the thirst and water needs for about 10,000 people.

Right now the researchers are working on how to make the system durable and user-friendly, but they did not state how the system might address various microbes and pollutants.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Images: Flickr/Today is a good day and MIT

This post was originally published on