Solar Powered Water Filtration MIT
September 11, 2013

Solar-Powered System Provides Clean Water To Small Villages

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers from MIT are working in a small Mexican village deep in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula to test a system that produces clean water using solar power.

The autonomous purification system consists of several photovoltaic panels, a large tank to hold purified water, and a telephone booth-sized shed that houses the heart of the pumps, filters and membranes. This solar-powered system is able to produce 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and could be a game changer for small villages that do not have access to clean water.

“There may be 25 million indigenous people in Mexico alone,” said Steven Dubowsky, a professor of mechanical engineering and of aeronautics and astronautics. “This is not a small problem. The potential for a system like this is huge.”

The solar panels are programmed to maximize the capture of sunlight, helping to power the system's pumps to push well water through the membranes in a process known as reverse osmosis. The membranes filter the water into a large tank, leaving behind salts and other heavy minerals.

The researchers say that the community has limited and intermittent access to water. Local authorities deliver brown water from distant ground wells to the village's 450 residents twice a week. The water that is delivered is not drinkable, however, so villagers use it to clean floors or wash clothes. The residents have to use rainwater for drinking but must first boil the water to avoid bacterial contamination.

Villagers do have access to drinkable, 20-liter bottles of water, but these sell for the high price of 20 pesos per bottle. The MIT researchers say that their invention should be able to produce a 20-liter bottle of drinking water for less than one peso.

The team is training community members to maintain the filtration system, which includes periodically changing out 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.”

Dubowsky hopes to provide water-purification systems to other areas in need, with the ability to scale the system according to the size of the community. He said the system's parts are designed to be user-friendly so that someone with basic auto-repair skills could also assemble and maintain the device.

"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.”