Water Scarcity and Solar Desalination - Does It Really Work and Will It Save The World?

Water Scarcity and Solar Desalination – Does It Really Work and Will It Save The World?

According to UNICEF, four billion people — almost two thirds of the world’s population — experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. Over two billion people live in countries where water supply is inadequate. Half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025.  

Water scarcity is one of the most crucial challenges in mankind’s history. After over four billion years of unlimited water use and utilisation, you wouldn’t think the world needs more water or even SAVE UP water. 

The bad news is that, there’s no way to stop using water, seeing how important it is in everyone’s daily life, and now even businesses. Scientists are looking for more ways to provide the population with clean and healthy water reserves. This is no news. But what’s alarming is that without a proper working solution soon, this issue may escalate and lead to a very catastrophic event.

To the rescue, solar desalination has been proven to be a proven alternative and great way to improve the water scarcity condition. As the name states, this technique desalinates water using solar energy. It’s designed to boil seawater, and produce a clean water reserve through condensation and heat recovery process. The evaporated steam would then be cooled and condensed into pristine freshwater – a reverse osmosis. 

Plenty of research has been conducted to find eco-friendly and efficient ways to desalinate sea water, but like every other technology and inventions, there are pros and cons to this method. 

On the good side, desalinated water can create clean water from saltwater sources, providing water scarcity immunity in case of drought – a drinking water solution. It can be implemented in both a small and large scale. Applicable in homes up to plants. 

However some cons include expensive upfront investment for equipments, tedious maintenance, and the worst part is that it may contaminate groundwater supplies without a proper water treatment… With policies, you might even risk losing your business without a proper solution. 

The challenge of this system includes low diffusivity of salt in the water. There is a high risk of salt accumulation which eventually results in the device’s inefficient work. This is one of the main challenges developers have faced recently while creating and optimising various applications. The solution would be to achieve simultaneous processes of thermal localisation and salt rejection.

According to sources, MIT-China has developed a solution to this salt accumulation problem. The goal is to create a desalination system that is claimed more process-and-cost-efficient than the current technology. Without any power source but the sunlight itself, they will be able to treat wastewater and generate steam to sterilise all medical instruments.  

This system is said to be able to provide more than 1.5 gallon of drinking water for every square meter of solar collecting area This makes the implementation of this system a potential low-cost source of drinking water.

The essence of this process is through heat recycling system where through the stages of water desalination, released heat from each stages are harnessed and recycled for other purpose or stage of process. The demo was shown to achieve an overall efficiency of 385% in converting solar or sunlight to energy for water evaporation.

With 10 stages, the proof-of-concept device was experimented on an MIT building rooftop with an impressive result that exceeded the city’s drinking water standards. 2 times more water output in ratio to the feed water than what the current solar desalination system can cover. 

Solar desalination systems rely on a wick to move saline water through the device. The issue is that these wicks are vulnerable to salt, causing tremendous accumulation and the inability to clean the device properly. The main target of the research and development team is to create a wickfree system. 

This invention is meant to be a game-changer in the field of solar water desalination.

Interesting fact is that the demonstration unit of this device was made of cheap and readily available materials (commercial black solar absorber and paper towels). The most expensive component used was a layer of transparent aerogel used as an insulator at the top of the stack. However, as many developers conclude, there are many affordable insulators available with the same amount of efficiency.

There are several ways to help aid solar desalination challenges. By maintaining and analysing the salt accumulation level, desalination and solar energy conversion process can be cost-and-time efficient. Savings can be achieved in manufacturing, operation, and maintenance.

Using a suitable industrial PC interfaces with the correct range of field bus and PC control software can fully automate the system operation. Sun position can be calculated with a PC control software to obtain the exact real time and location from a GPS receiver or an internet time server. Positioning instructions and commands can then be sent to the drive control with motion controllers. Via an intelligent I/O terminal, the whole process can be simplified and automated with serial interfaces to the servo motor controllers. Functionalities such as weather data, temperature, safety detrack, hardware watchdog, manual drive operations, sensor data analysis, gas valve operation and even alternator contactor explains only few advantages that are accessible with the right interface system. 

Ti2 supply a wide range of Industrial Diagnostics products, for Industrial Networks, both portable and installed permanently. These include:

And more…

To conclude… Water desalination is proven to overcome water scarcity, indirectly prolonging the life of ours, and the planet. However in order for it to be a part of our daily life and contribute to a stable economy, it must be improved to be more cost-efficient and easier to maintain and upkeep.  

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Article inspired by MIT, Nature Com., SA, clean solar, and Ti2.

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