Researchers at MIT have developed a solar-powered device that has the potential to turn seawater into drinkable water for entire households. The device, which is more efficient, longer-lasting, and cheaper than previous desalination devices, could eventually produce water at a lower cost than US tap water, according to a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Joule.
Desalination, the process of removing salt from saline water, is particularly useful in water-scarce regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. The new device relies on solar power, eliminating the need for electricity and reducing the financial burden, especially for low-income countries facing water scarcity.
While the device is currently operational in a lab setting, researchers still need to test its durability and determine how much brine it expels. Brine, the salt-rich water that is a byproduct of the desalination process, can harm aquatic life when disposed of in the ocean over long periods of time. However, researchers believe this negative impact can be mitigated with the development of technologies to minimize brine production and the identification of fish species that can tolerate high salt levels.
The team is also working on scaling the device to serve larger populations, which poses a significant challenge. Nevertheless, they have received inquiries from domestic and international organizations about the product's potential.
This development is significant in light of the looming water scarcity crisis highlighted in the 2023 United Nations World Water Development Report. Desalination is considered a crucial solution to this crisis, according to Manzoor Qadir, an environmental scientist and deputy director of the United Nations University.
Overall, the MIT device offers hope for addressing global water scarcity by providing a cost-effective and sustainable way to turn seawater into drinkable water. However, further testing and scaling efforts are needed before it can be widely implemented.