MIT Engineers Created a Portable Device that Zaps Seawater to Make Drinking Water

A team of scientists at MIT have created a device that turns brackish seawater into clean water with the push of a button — and could be particularly useful for people living in coastal places like California, who are struggling to survive. faced to Droughts due to climate change.

New desalination equipment (a term used to describe a machine that can remove salt from sea waterr) is roughly the size of a suitcase, weighs less than 10 kilograms, and uses less power than mobile phone chargers, according to an article published in the journal April 14. Environmental Science and Technology. With the push of a button, it is possible to automatically generate potable water that exceeds the World Health Organization water quality standards.

“Even a kindergarten student can wear and use a desalination device,” says Junghyo Yoon, a research scientist in the Electronics Research Laboratory at MIT and a co-author of the paper. with The Daily Beast. “[Ease of use] is one of the main driving forces of device creation. “

This unit does not rely on any filters like traditional desalination machines. Instead, it breaks the water with an electric current to remove minerals like salt particles from the water. According to Yoon, due to its portability and lack of filters that need to be replaced, it has a wide range of applications including being addressed to coastal communities, climate disaster refugees, or even forerunners. apocalypse, according to Yoon.

“My team and I have been working on desalination technology for over ten years now,” said Jongyoon Han, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and bioengineering at MIT and lead author of the paper. with The Daily Beast. “This particular technology has gone through many different iterations and we have finally reached a major milestone of a provable system.”

Yoon and Han’s new device solves some of the common problems with most commercial desalination machines. Firstly, pushing water through the pump through the filters is quite energy intensive so it is difficult to make a smaller, portable version of it. Instead, the MIT team’s device is based on a process called ion concentration polarization (ICP), which uses electric fields sent across membranes above and below the water channel. The field pushes charged particles and contaminants into a separate water channel and is removed. This allows for the production of clean, potable water. “We apply an electric field in the water stream, and the electricity helps to remove particles like salt in the water,” explains Yoon. “That’s the basic principle of the device’s desalination process.”

The researchers now want to develop their device to improve its production speed and usability. After all, the more water a device can produce at a time, the more people have access to safe and potable water. To that end, Yoon plans to start a startup in the coming years to create a viable, commercial desalination device using ICP technology with MIT support.

However, Han said he has broader and more “long-term goals” for his desalination efforts. Specifically, he wanted to take a more critical look at reverse osmosis (RO), a desalination process in which brine is pushed through a membrane or filter resulting in clean water. “That achieves good enough energy efficiency, but it has significant maintenance requirements and it only works on a large scale, such as a large factory,” said Han, adding that it is a The process doesn’t work for places in the world like California, where “water needs are fluctuating” and where clean, potable water is urgently needed.

The user-friendly device, weighing less than 10 kg and requiring no filter, can be powered by a small, portable solar panel.

M. Scott Brauer

“That flow doesn’t work well with a rigid desalination model used by an RO plant,” he said. “So I’m thinking about how we can adopt more flexible desalination processes, like ICP. It’s a really long-term direction that I’m interested in.”

He also explained that he wants to tackle challenges beyond desalination including detecting and removing contaminants in water such as heavy metals and disease-causing pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.

“Most of these contaminants are open charges, so technically we have the opportunity to remove a wide range of contaminants like lead and bacteria,” says Han. “In the future, we want to design our system to remove industrial contaminants. Those prospects are very interesting. ”

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