Potable Water Generation System Using Renewable Energy Sources

In the developing world, two of the most critical resources are food and water. It is estimated that as many as ~1.8 billion people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water. Lack of clean water is the source of many health issues, especially for remote, poor, and isolated communities. Another problem in seaside communities is that seawater often seeps into shallow water wells and contaminates them with heavy metals. For instance, well water in many communities in Bangladesh has close to 1000x the level of arsenic that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for potable water. This problem will be exacerbated by climate change. Our objective is to introduce a simple, low-cost solution that could make a difference in people’s lives by preventing waterborne diseases.

There are many desalination plants around the world, all of them powered by fossil fuels or other power sources. Poor or isolated communities do not have access to them, nor can they afford them. Considering that three quarters of our planet is covered by seawater, it is makes sense to look for simple inexpensive solutions for seawater desalination and water purification of available water including lake or river water using off-grid renewable sources, such as solar and wind energy and with no need for consumable materials.

The problem with renewable energy sources is that they are not energy dense or continuously available. Typically, one has to utilize a large area to achieve the same result that fossil fuels can deliver in a small footprint. However, they are suitable for the needs of small communities with modest water requirements. Furthermore, in many poor countries there is a lack of infrastructure for the distribution of water resources, which suggests a localized solution is more appropriate. We estimate that a small, modular installation ~ 10 m2in area should be sufficient for the needs of a small community.

Bird's eye view of proposed water treatment system

 

Underwater view of proposed water treatment system

Currently, water desalination/purification has been viewed as a business opportunity rather than a humanitarian endeavor; thus, the focus has been on throughput and efficiency. Instead, we aim to develop and optimize a low-cost, modular system that can be easily installed by volunteer labor and/or the help of local community members without any specialized skills. Once installed, the system should be essentially maintenance-free and capable of operating for a long time. We envision that the production and deployment of these systems would be funded and managed by a non-profit charitable organization.

Our immediate goal is the development of a prototype system that will serve as a proof-of-concept. This project is currently looking for collaborators or volunteers at any and all stages.

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