From: Debra Goldberg, ENN
Published September 11, 2013 02:33 PM

Solar-powered system used to produce clean water in rural villages

Clean drinking water is often an overlooked privilege in first world countries. However, in areas such as the rural villages of the Yucatan Peninsula, potable water is at least a day’s drive away and costs more than local residents can afford.

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MIT researchers have recognized this problem and have developed a simple, inexpensive system to purify water. Led by Steven Dubowsky, professor of mechanical engineering and of aeronautics and astronautics, the team has built and tested a system that consists of photovoltaic panels, a large tank to hold purified water, and a small shed which houses the pumps, filters and membranes, and computers that allow the system to run itself.

The solar panels power the system’s pumps, which push brown, brackish well water through the semiporous membranes. These membranes filter out salts and other heavy minerals, producing clean, potable water. This system is capable of producing about 1,000 liters of drinking water every day, enough for all of the residents of a small Mexican village.

The MIT water purifier is installed directly in the village. This relieves the stress of having to purchase bottled trucked-in water, which costs 20 pesos, because the system can produce a 20-liter bottle of potable water for less than one peso. It only requires brackish water to be delivered twice a week by local authorities from distant groundwater wells or the collection of rainwater by residents.

If this system is successful in the long run, it may be replicated and become an invaluable resource in other parts of the world where fresh drinking water is scarce and costly. According to Dubowsky, "There may be 25 million indigenous people in Mexico alone. This is not a small problem. The potential for a system like this is huge."

After four months of testing the system, the team is now training community members to maintain it — occasionally changing filters and replacing additives in the water. "The maintenance of the system is going to be in the hands of the community,"Dubowsky says. "The idea is to give people a real sense of self-worth and self-reliance."

"This project approach is somewhat unique in work for small communities in the developing world," Dubowsky says. "It is based on bringing to people the best technology to meet their needs. The challenge is to provide the training so they can operate and maintain the system."

Read more at MIT News

Groundwater well image via Shutterstock.

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