Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Solar-Powered Portable Desalination System

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Field and Space Robotics Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has developed a portable solar-powered desalination system that could be used to produce drinking water in a crisis or in remote areas where electricity and clean water are hard to get.

Steven Dubowsky, a professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, led a research group that has demonstrated that a small prototype desalination system can produce 80 gallons of water a day in a various weather conditions. A larger version could cost about $8,000 to construct and provide about 1,000 gallons of water a day. The team reported preliminary results from the prototype system at the EuroMed 2010-Desalination for Clean Water and Energy Conference.


Researchers have created a desalination system in which a solar
photovoltaic panel powers pumps that push seawater through a
permeable membrane to remove salt and other minerals.

The system uses reverse osmosis to remove salt from seawater. Electric power produced by the photovoltaic panel pushes seawater through various pumps. High-pressure water enters a vessel with a permeable membrane where minerals such as salt are removed as the water diffuses through the membrane.

The MIT system is designed to change certain variables, such as the power of the pump or the position of the valves, to maximize water output in response to changes in sunshine, temperature and water demand. In sunny conditions the system works faster and produces more water, but it will still produce water even when it’s cloudy.

Dubowsky and his team recently sent a small-scale unit to the Middle East for testing, and they continue to explore ways to produce more water and to make the system more durable.

The research is funded by MIT’s Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy in collaboration with the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.


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