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One Mexican village's solar-powered water purifier

Posting in Environment

The 450 residents of a small village deep in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula are a day’s drive away from any source of drinkable water. This community is now hosting researchers testing a solar-powered system that produces 1,000 liters of clean water a day. MIT News Office reports.

Twice a week, local authorities deliver brackish water from distant groundwater wells for cleaning floors and washing clothes. Residents can also collect rainwater, which must first be boiled to avoid bacterial contamination.

Drinkable water is purchased in 20-liter bottles, which are trucked to the village. But the village only has a few working vehicles, and the villagers -- most of whom are subsistence farmers -- are scarcely able to afford the price of roughly 20 pesos per bottle of trucked-in water.

Even on a cloudy day, the solar-powered water purifier can produce about 1,000 liters of drinking water. Installed directly in the village, the relatively inexpensive system produces a 20-liter bottle of drinking water for less than one peso.

  • Several modest photovoltaic panels, programmed to maximize the capture of sunlight, power the system’s pumps.
  • The brown, brackish well water is pushed through semiporous membranes -- a process known as reverse osmosis.
  • The membranes filter clean, drinkable water into a large tank, leaving behind salts and other heavy minerals.
  • The pumps, filters and membranes, and computers that enable the system to run itself are housed in a telephone booth-sized shed. (All the parts of commercially available.)

The team led by MIT’s Steven Dubowsky has been field testing the system for the past four months. If successful, the operation may be replicated in other parts of the world where fresh drinking water is scarce and costly.

Community members are trained maintain it, periodically changing out filters and replacing additives in the water.

[MIT News Office]

Image: MIT Field and Space Robotics Laboratory

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— By on September 17, 2013, 5:43 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure