New solar device makes desalinated seawater cheaper than tap water

Engineers at MIT and China have jointly developed a solar-powered system that extracts fresh water from seawater so efficiently it is "cheaper than tap water," says one of the researchers who invented the system. The inventors say the system could provide clean drinking water sustainably to off-grid coastal communities and families living near a sea water source.

From MIT News:

The configuration of the device allows water to circulate in swirling eddies, in a manner similar to the much larger "thermohaline" circulation of the ocean. This circulation, combined with the sun's heat, drives water to evaporate, leaving salt behind. The resulting water vapor can then be condensed and collected as pure, drinkable water. In the meantime, the leftover salt continues to circulate through and out of the device, rather than accumulating and clogging the system.

The new system has a higher water-production rate and a higher salt-rejection rate than all other passive solar desalination concepts currently being tested.

The researchers estimate that if the system is scaled up to the size of a small suitcase, it could produce about 4 to 6 liters of drinking water per hour and last several years before requiring replacement parts. At this scale and performance, the system could produce drinking water at a rate and price that is cheaper than tap water.

"For the first time, it is possible for water, produced by sunlight, to be even cheaper than tap water," says Lenan Zhang, a research scientist in MIT's Device Research Laboratory.