Turning Seawater Into Drinking Water With Just One Button

Desalination—removing salt from water—will be a necessity in the future. Middle Eastern countries already use this technology to a greater degree than the West and now it’s quickly improving. Within 30 minutes, a new small device can produce one cup of potable water from the sea.

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Turning Seawater Into Drinking Water With Just One Button | Definition Match

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Full text:

MIT researchers have developed a portable desalination unit, weighing less than 10 kilograms, that can remove particles and salts to generate drinking water. The device is smaller than a suitcase and requires less power to operate than a cell phone charger. It can also be driven by a small, portable solar panel, which can be purchased online for around $50.

It automatically generates drinking water that exceeds World Health Organization quality standards. The technology is packaged into a user-friendly device that runs with the push of one button. Unlike other portable desalination units that require water to pass through filters, this device utilizes electrical power to remove particles from drinking water. Eliminating the need for replacement filters greatly reduces the long-term maintenance requirements. This could enable the unit to be deployed in remote and severely resource-limited areas or aid refugees fleeing natural disasters.

Other portable desalination units typically require high-pressure pumps to push water through filters, which are very difficult to miniaturize without compromising the energy-efficiency of the device. Instead, this unit relies on a technique called ion concentration polarization (ICP), applying an electrical field to membranes placed above and below a channel of water. The membranes repel positively or negatively charged particles—including salt molecules, bacteria, and viruses—as they flow past. The charged particles are funneled into a second stream of water that is eventually discharged.

The researchers also created a smartphone app that can control the unit wirelessly and report real-time data on power consumption and water salinity. In about half an hour, the device had filled a plastic drinking cup with clear, drinkable water.

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