Science Scope

A clean water machine powered by the sun

Posting in Design

MIT researchers use a solar photovoltaic panel to power pumps that move seawater through a permeable membrane that removes salt to produce clean drinking water.

MIT researchers have created a portable desalination system. The water machine could be used in countries that lack the infrastructure needed to deliver water on a regular basis or be used in disaster zones like Haiti.

The researchers at MIT's Field and Space Robotics Laboratory (FSRL) designed the solar-powered desalination system shown in the video above.

It uses a solar photovoltaic panel to power the pumps that force the seawater through a permeable membrane. The high pressure pushes the water through the membrane, leaving the salt and other minerals behind.

Sensors help the machine conserve energy on cloudy days and produce more clean water on sunny days.

The process is called reverse osmosis.

Reverse osmosis has been used for decades. But the projects usually are large-scale installments that hog a lot of energy. The MIT system is portable and operates off-the-grid, which is a major plus if you want to deploy the machines in remote areas.

The team estimates that one C-130 cargo airplane could carry two dozen desalination units. That would be enough to give 10,000 people clean water.

LifeGivingForce's portable machine uses solar panels too. And the machines are actually being used in Haiti now - illustrating the need for water filtration systems in disaster zones.

Recently, I went with the SmartPlanet video crew to see LGF's water machine in action. We watched it suck up lake water and turned it into clean drinking water.

Called the LGF Rapid Response 10000UF, the device operates like a miniature water treatment plant. It purifies up to 10,000 liters of water a day, which is enough clean water for about 5,000 people.

Once unloaded from a black box — two hoses, a few filters, et cetera — the device can be assembled in 10 minutes. It’s powered by solar panel and uses a three-stage filtration process to clean water from ponds, wells, streams and lakes.

It’s a stunning visual: murky green-blue water goes in, clear water comes out. To prove it, LGF staffers sipped water straight from the clean end of the hose.

In the future, water machines could provide a way for people to access clean water, even when the country lacks the infrastructure to deliver it. It's not hard to imagine how deploying the machines to people living off-the-grid in small villages, farms or other remote locations could be useful.

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure