New water desalination approach could lead to portable units for disaster relief or remote locations
A single unit of the new desalination device - in the Y-shaped channel (in red), seawater enters from the right, and fresh water leaves through the lower channel at left, while concentrated brine leaves through the upper channel (Image: Patrick Gillooly/MIT)
Following natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina, potable water is often in high demand and short supply. In both of those instances, the disaster zones were near the sea, but converting salty seawater to potable fresh water usually requires a large amount of dependable electrical power and large-scale desalination plants - neither of which were available in the disaster areas. A new approach to desalination, called ion concentration polarization, could lead to small, portable desalination units that could be powered by solar cells or batteries and could deliver enough fresh water to supply the needs of a family or small village.