With droughts becoming more common around the world, finding ways to produce freshwater is more important than ever. A new $4 desalination system can produce up to 5 gallons of fresh water a day, making it a great option for small families or groups. Plus, it’s easy to set up and use, making it a perfect addition to any home. The system relies on sunlight for heat and natural convection for water evaporation. Above a tank of saltwater sit three different layers, starting with a sheet of material with tiny holes in it. Above this sheet sits a confined layer of water, topped off by a cover of dark-colored material. The dark material absorbs heat from sunlight, and that heat serves to evaporate pure water from the confined water layer. The pure water is condensed and collected, leaving the salt to sink back down into the cooler water below.
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Why is this important?
In 2018 Cape Town, South Africa came frighteningly close to being the world’s first major city to run out of water. Unfortunately, it’s not alone; water scarcity is a growing problem in multiple regions of the world, from major cities to rural areas in both developed and developing nations. There aren’t many ways to create more water, and desalination has only become a possible solution due to a lack of better options. Besides requiring a lot of energy, large-scale desalination is expensive, complex, and comes with salty byproducts that are hard to dispose of. A new desalination method described this week in Nature Communications won’t solve all these problems, but it’s a good start, especially for small-scale water purification. A team of researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and MIT built a relatively simple, low-cost desalination system they believe could be implemented in its current form for families and communities, and developed into a commercial device within a few years.
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