Innovation That Matters

Solar powered water purifier is inexpensive and efficient


A University of Buffalo-led team of researchers developed a low-cost, highly effective purification method that makes contaminated water drinkable.

Using inexpensive materials and a simple design, the University of Buffalo research team’s solar powered water purifier could retail for less than USD 2 per square meter. That cost is in stark contrast to water purification systems that depend on optical concentrators and can cost more than USD 200 per square meter. The team believes the new design could be life changing for remote communities living without reliable access to electricity and those affected by natural disasters.

The solar still is made of expanded polystyrene foam and carbon-coated paper. The polystyrene keeps the structure afloat and acts as an insulator, and the paper absorbs the water. The carbon coating on the paper absorbs the sunlight, heating the water enough to change it into vapor. The vapor leaves contaminants behind, so that when cooled, becomes potable water. In tests, the design lost only 12 percent of the heat generated, a rate far more efficient than the options that are currently on the market. Additionally, researchers believe that the solar powered still could produce between three and 10 liters of drinking water per day, which is more than the capabilities of most current models.

Prohibitive costs remain a main barrier to widespread adoption of many new innovations. A number of entrepreneurs are looking for ways to make products more attainable for the communities that could use them most. Another solar-powered water purifier uses bubble wrap and a sponge to boil water, and a new solar panel design also produces drinking water that is accessed via an integrated tap. Once tested at scale, how might these innovations be further adapted for specific communities?



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