Portable Solar-Powered Desalination System Developed by MIT [Video]
MIT develops solar-powered desalination system that can produce up to 1000 gallons of water per day and is small enough to be rapidly deployed in crisis situations
A team from MIT has designed a solar-powered desalination system that is small enough to be rapidly deployed in crisis situations to produce drinking water. The portable system could be effectively used in remote areas where energy and clean water supplies are scarce, in desert locations, or to help farmers and people in developing countries. Video below.
A situation where a portable solar-powered desalination system could have been a vital asset was in the weeks following the Haiti earthquake, when relief teams required large amounts of airborne bottled water supplies. If portable solar-powered desalination equipment had existed, the sea water surrounding the island could have been converted to drinking water. Desalination systems have existed for decades, but they are usually large-scale installations requiring a physical infrastructure and considerable amounts of energy for operation.
The MIT team, headed by Professor Steven Dubowsky of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and graduate students Amy Bilton and Leah Kelley, built a small prototype of the solar-powered desalination system last spring, and tested the algorithms they’d developed to run it. The prototype has been demonstrated to be capable of producing 80 gallons of water a day under many different weather conditions. A larger version of the unit, estimated to cost about $8,000, could provide approximately 1,000 gallons of water per day. The researchers also estimate that one C-130 cargo airplane could transport two dozen solar-powered desalination units, which would provide potable water for 10,000 people.
Unlike conventional solar-powered desalination systems that default to expensive, short-lived batteries under cloudy conditions, the new MIT system is designed to change variables like the power of the pump or the position of the valves in order to maximize water output in response to weather, temperature, and demand fluctuations. This “optimal control” feature is managed by various sensors connected to a control computer to signal operators when to make changes. Solar-powered desalination will prove to be a valuable technology for disaster response and in developing countries or other locations where infrastructure for potable water is not in place.