Millie HennickAugust 28, 2018283
Man-made climate change is creating rising sea levels in many countries already. Imagine living in a location where your drinking water must be trucked in because the wells in town were so depleted that seawater leached into the freshwater supply. In many coastal areas, this is a regular occurrence. A team of students and a professor at the University of Michigan along with colleagues at the University of Sonora in Mexico have developed a prototype single-stage distillation unit powered by solar power that desalinates water.
The prototype unit can distill 150 liters per day and can be scaled up to 3,000 liters of water daily. That’s equal to five truckloads of fresh water and a dramatically more environmentally responsible solution to the problem of insufficient access to fresh water, They designed the system for Tastiota, a small village in the Sonoran desert, which had been trucking in its water from 100 kilometers away. After distillationa the seawater, what’s left is brine that can be converted to salt and sold to other businesses, creating a circular economy. Other markets for the desalination unit include the global sunbelt located several degrees above and below the equator and hotels in coastal cities and towns. Many of the world’s deserts lie in this region.
“Hotels could use this to reduce their impact on the areas they are serving,” he said. “A lot of the locations of these hotels are in fragile basins at risk of getting saline intrusion.”
What makes this solution sustainable is the business aspect of desalination. This technology results in both a sellable byproduct, by processing brine into salt, and an improved ability for coastal fishers to bring their catch to larger markets. This significantly improves the technology’s financial viability and provides a true market solution.
“I realized that the potential of such a solution had far-reaching implications globally. It was clear to me that the commercial potential of this idea was scalable to different conditions in different regions of the world,” Mogosanu said.
Richard Greeley, a senior licensing specialist for engineering at U-M Tech Transfer, said that while many startups attract venture funding, Alfaro’s project may also appeal to a charitable foundation because the work is humanitarian in nature.
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