Finding ways to create clean drinking water where there is none is a field of constant innovation. Desalination, the process of filtering seawater to make it fit for human use, is perhaps the most common and researchers around the globe are on a quest to bring cost-effective and portable desalination technology to rural areas where it is desperately needed. So it’s exciting news that researchers at Alexandria University in Egypt have developed a promising new method that can turn salt water into fresh water in just a few minutes.

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The new Egyptian method relies on salt-attracting membranes and vaporizing heat to turn dirty seawater into fresh water for human consumption and irrigation purposes. Researchers used membranes containing cellulose acetate powder, which is very inexpensive to make in Egypt. The powder works in combination with other components to bind the salt particles as they pass through the membrane. Essentially, it’s a filter designed to trap the salt and allow fresh water to pass through, much like other types of filters trap particles and microbes.

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That’s the first part of the two-phase process called pervaporation. The second step involves heating the resulting water until it vaporizes. Similar to distillation, the water vapor is then condensed to get rid of other small impurities, and clean water is collected.

Researchers published their findings last month in Water Science and Technology, claiming this method makes is possible to efficiently process water that is tainted with multiple contaminants – which is something that is rather difficult and time consuming to do using existing technologies.

This new method could help thousands gain easier access to clean water for consumption as well as irrigation, starting with an abundant resource like dirty seawater. Starting with cheap, locally produced materials makes it more cost-effective to produce and distribute this type of desalination equipment. The other benefit is that this method doesn’t require electricity. That keeps the cost low and makes it possible to use this filtering method nearly anywhere, even in undeveloped rural areas.

+ IWA Publishing


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