A revolutionary, mobile and energy-efficient technology to desalinate seawater

At a time when we are concerned about the level of rivers and access to drinking water, this invention could well be a game-changer. Researchers at MIT have developed a seawater desalination device that fits in a briefcase, and that consumes very little energy.

785 million people on Earth do not have access to safe drinking water. Jongyoon Han, professor of electrical engineering at MIT, helped by his students, wanted to improve the situation by developing a brand new water desalination process, called ICP (for Ion Concentration Polarization).

A suitcase with drinking water

The device, with a footprint the size of a suitcase, is easy to carry. The ICP process requires less energy than a phone charger, and it can even be used with a solar panel. According to the researchers, this desalination unit can be deployed in remote places with limited resources (on an island or a cargo ship), by refugees fleeing natural disasters, or by the military during long operations.

Traditional desalination units require high-pressure pumps that propel salt water through filters, all of which are very difficult to miniaturize. ICP technology only requires a low pressure pump, which therefore consumes less energy. The filters are replaced by a process that applies an electric field to membranes positioned above and below the water stream.

The membranes repel charged particles (salt molecules, bacteria, viruses) into a separate water stream. The case then performs a second electrodialysis pass to remove the remaining salt ions. And the researchers did not stop there, they also had the objective of making it as easy as possible to use their suitcase. In fact, a simple button is enough to launch all the operations.

The tests have been conclusive with a quality of drinking water that exceeds the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO). The prototype produces 0.3 liters per hour and requires a power of 20 watts/hour for one litre. Now, the inventors want to launch the large-scale production of their system.

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