Solar energy technology turns seawater into drinking water

By Jonathan Campion
Scientists in South Korea have developed a solar-powered membrane to turn seawater or waste water into drinking water using solar power...

This membrane distillation technology was created by two teams of researchers from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Seoul - one from the Water Cycle Research Centre led by Dr. Kyung-guen Song, and one from the Centre for Opto-Electronic Materials and Devices, led by Dr. Won-jun Choi. 

In this membrane distillation process, thermal energy is used to evaporate seawater, before it is passed through a hydrophobic membrane that separates the seawater from the water vapour. When the water vapour condenses it forms drinking water.

Because this method of desalination can be undertaken at low temperatures, it is a much more energy-efficient form of thermal desalination.

In this process, the water is heated using solar absorbers. The South Korean teams’ versions of these can absorb up to 85% of solar energy, making them also more efficient than previously designed absorbers.

The greatest need for solar-powered membrane distillation technology is in producing drinking water in underdeveloped parts of the world, or remote and island communities where potable water is hard to source. It is also being suggested that solar technology could be used to provide sources of drinking water at military bases.

Dr. Kyung-guen Song, one of the research leaders from KIST, hinted that the Institute would continue to look for new ways to harness solar power: "This study combines material technologies with water treatment technologies and is significant in that it is a successful case of integrated research that has resulted in revolutionary achievements. We plan to continue developing water treatment technologies that apply advanced materials technologies through ongoing integrated research."

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