solar evaporation
Credit: University of South Australia

Water: It is necessary for life, but as per the UNICEF, Less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and due to the pressure of climate change, pollution, and shifting population patterns, in many areas this already scarce resource is becoming scarce.

Today, 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in areas of high, or extremely high, water vulnerability, and that figure is expected to grow in coming decades.

In addition, inadequate sanitation, brought on by water shortages, is also a problem for 2.4 billion people making them vulnerable to diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever.

Scientists at UniSA Future Industries Institute have come up with a new promising solution that could eliminate water stress for millions of people, including those living in many of the planet’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

A team of scientists led by Associate Professor at the University of South Australia “Haolan Xu” has refined a method to derive fresh water from seawater, contaminated water, or brackish water, through highly efficient solar evaporation, delivering enough daily fresh drinking water for a family of four from just one square meter of source water.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on using solar evaporation to create fresh drinking water, but previous techniques have been too inefficient to be practically useful,” Assoc Prof Haolan Xu Xu said.

“We have overcome those inefficiencies, and our technology can now deliver enough fresh water to support many practical needs at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies like reverse osmosis.”

Xu and his team have developed a way to collect water that is cost-effective by using sustainable materials and sunlight. To accomplish this, they engineered a profoundly efficient photothermal structure that sits on the surface of a water source and converts sunlight to heat.

“Previously many of the experimental photothermal evaporators were basically two dimensional; they were just a flat surface, and they could lose 10 to 20 percent of solar energy to the bulk water and the surrounding environment,” Xu added.

“We have developed a technique that not only prevents any loss of solar energy but actually draws additional energy from the bulk water and surrounding environment, meaning the system operates at 100 percent efficiency for the solar input and draws up to another 170 percent energy from the water and environment.”

“There are a lot of potential ways to adapt the same technology, so we are really at the beginning of a very exciting journey,” he says.

If the invention does prove fruitful, it could change the lives of billions of individuals around the world.

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