Salty or Sweet? Harnessing the Sun for Desalination

Here is one for all of the science buffs! Two Canadian engineers recently unveiled a cheaper desalination method that harnesses the sun to power the desalination process, which in turn could lower the cost of desalination by almost 80%. This process requires a bit more ingenuity than the typical prototype, but if it does work as described then this might prove to be one of many answers used to solve the linger issue of water scarcity.

I will try to sum up their process as best I can (with the limited science and engineering knowledge that I have).  The engineers, Ben Sparrow and Joshua Zoshih, believe that they can create an ample amount of fresh water with less than 1 kWh of electricity. The only energy required is a very small amount (remember, less than 1 kWh) used to pump the water through the system, As described in The Economist, “Their process is fuelled by concentration gradients of salinity between different vessels of brine. These different salinities are brought about by evaporation.” Therefore, no other source of “paid” power is needed to produce this freshwater because the rest of the energy comes from natural sources (sun, air). See visual below for more information!

The article goes into more detail, and it is interesting to compare this system to the ones that are currently proposed by businesses such as G.E. It does appear that there are striking benefits to this system such as the performance of this process improves in arid regions (which are the regions that most need this type of technology), and it requires less pre-treatment and chemicals than traditional processes.

Perhaps there is more to this story than at first meets the eye? Admittedly, I have very little knowledge of desalination, but the proposed process seemed ingenious when I read about it. Perhaps there are many more of these ideas floating out there? I also am sure there are cons to this system. However, I will need to do a little more research to understand that side of the story a little better.


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