Home Sciences They build a seawater desalination plant the size of a suitcase

They build a seawater desalination plant the size of a suitcase

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It weighs just 10 kilos -like the wheel of a car-, it charges faster than a mobile phone, it costs 50 dollars (48.03 euros) and it can make water drinkable without the need for expensive filters or high pressure pumps.. This is the latest tool developed by a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who, after a decade studying the physics behind potabilization processes, have designed and built a portable and cheap desalination plant, the size of a small suitcase.

It is the first of its kind and constitutes a true revolution for the sector. With this instrument, turning salt water into drinking water requires only the push of a button. Unlike other portable desalination devices, which need to pass the water through a series of filters to work, this device only needs electrical power to remove harmful particles from the water and thus make it drinkable.

This new tool has two advantages over its competitors on the market: it has fewer long-term maintenance requirements, and it can be miniaturized without compromising its energy efficiency. “We have worked for a decade to understand the physics behind individual desalination processes”explains Jongyoon Han, electrical engineer and lead author of the study of this new technique that has been published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Once they had everything clear, “we put all these advances in a box, built a system and verified that it worked when used in the ocean”, reviews Han, who highlights that the experience was “really rewarding”.

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The operation of this device is based on a technique that this research group has named ion concentration polarization (ICP). Instead of filtering the water, the ICP process applies electricity through membranes placed above and below the water. The membranes repel positively or negatively charged particles as they pass through, allowing salt molecules, bacteria and viruses to be removed.

The charged particles are channeled into a second stream of water that is ultimately discharged. “Although it is true that some contaminant particles could be trapped in the ion exchange membrane, it is only necessary to reverse the polarity of the electric field to remove them,” says Yoon.

The device is designed so that anyone can use it with the push of a button. The desalination process starts automatically and once the salinity level and the number of particles decrease to specific thresholds, the device notifies the user that the water is safe to drink.A glass of drinking water in half an hour

The first time this portable desalination plant was tested was at Carson Beach, in Boston (USA). The scientists placed the box near the shore and dumped the feeding tube ashore. Within half an hour, the device had filled a plastic cup with clean, drinkable water. “It was successful from its first test, which excited and surprised us in equal parts,” highlights Han, who insists that this milestone is the result of “the accumulation of small advances during the decade of research.”

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The water that filled that glass exceeded the quality rates of the World Health Organization (WHO) and in record time: in one hour he had already obtained 300 milliliters. Hence, the precursors consider that this tool could revolutionize the way in which water is managed worldwide and help manage the purification of water in those countries with fewer resources.

Around the world, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source that is contaminated, while another 844 million lack even a basic drinking water supply service. This contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever and polio. Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause more than 502,000 deaths from diarrhea each year.

Reference article: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c08466

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Contact with the Environment section: crisisclimatica@prensaiberica.es

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