Researchers stop water wars with science and engineering

A report by the UN has stated that water will become so scare by 2050 that there is a possibility that many conflicts or wars may be fought over water sources. It’s a scary thought to think that countries will be fighting to ensure their citizens have enough water to grow food particularly seeing as water was once considered an unlimited resource. With exploding population growth many natural resources including water are already facing significant strain and climate change is set to make things much worse. We are already seeing rural areas deprived of fresh drinking water and this will grow into a much larger issue so the question is how we can address this.

India has a population of 1.3 billion and is expected to continue on this high growth trajectory but faces the challenge of water shortages as the rate of water consumption is exceeding the replenishment of ground water via rainfall.  This has been tackled in some areas by building energy intensive reverse osmosis (RO) plants that filter contaminated town water under high pressures to remove salt and bacteria. However, many of these RO plants are being built for rural communities that can ill afford the treated water which poses a challenge as to how to provide safe and clean drinking water at an affordable price.

In comes researchers from MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design! PhD candidate Natasha Wright and Professor Amo Winter have built an electrodialysis reversal (EDR) system that can provide drinkable water via a low-cost, low waste and low energy consumption system. EDR unlike RO uses 25 to 75 percent less energy and can recover more than 90% of the feed water. Salt is removed by passing the feed water through a stack of alternating cation and anion exchange membranes which separates the salt from the water and UV light is utilised to kill biological contaminants in the water. As the energy load for this system is much less, it means fewer solar panels are needed making the overall cost of producing drinkable water much more affordable. It is great to see science and engineering being applied to address today’s social and environmental issues!

Feature image courtesy of Crazy Engineers.



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