From ocean waves to a cool drink of water, a North Carolina startup has come up with a method of desalination powered by the sea itself. Called the Swell Actuated Reverse Osmosis System – SAROS for short – it uses high-pressure pumps powered by the vertical motion of waves to remove salt from ocean water, making it fit for human consumption. The founders believe SAROS could be used to address fresh water shortages in coastal areas, island communities, and after natural disasters when regular water purification systems are disrupted.

Although SAROS turns seawater into fresh, drinkable water, it only works on a small scale. That, as the founders describe, means their creation isn’t likely to solve the devastating drought in California. It can, however, help provide the fresh water desperately needed in areas suffering from a water crisis on a smaller scale. By the year 2050, shortages of fresh water are expected to impact almost 1 billion people on Earth.

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Chris Matthews, 24, and Justin Sonnett, 25, are co-founders of EcoH2O Innovations, which grew out of their senior design project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2014. Because SAROS draws energy from the ocean’s currents to power the desalination pump, it’s a very low-cost response to a difficult problem. “It’s also going to be a lot less expensive than traditional desalination plants,” said Sonnett, SAROS’ director of research and development, “which take a whole lot of energy to build and run.”

The self-contained unit and the buoy that keeps it afloat are small enough to be transported on in the bed of a regular pickup truck, making it easy to get the system to where it is most needed. The SAROS team expects the unit to retail for around $23,000 and have a lifespan of 10 years. The low-cost ocean-powered desalination machine can produce up to 2,000 gallons of clean water per day.

“It’s never going to be something that’s going to make tons of money, but we just want to see it make tons of water,” Sonnett says.

Via CityLab

Images via SAROS Desalination/Facebook