(CN) – A team of scientists announced Tuesday that they have discovered a way to purify water and generate electricity at the same time using a solar-powered device, making it possible to transform electricity power plants into fresh water producers.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology said they were able to combine two solar-driven technologies – photovoltaics and multistage membrane distillation – to create a device that produces both electricity and clean water.
The technology uses a photovoltaic panel, which converts light into electricity, along with a membrane distillation unit that evaporates and collects water. The heat dissipated by the photovoltaic panel is used to evaporate the water, making the process more efficient.
“The device maintains the efficiency of a commercial solar cell, while at the same time providing clean water at a higher production rate than most existing devices,” the researchers said.
While similar technology has been researched before, this new device is much more efficient, making it more usable for arid and dry areas. The scientists said tests of the device found that the water production rate of the device is “three times higher than that of the conventional solar stills.”
“At the same time, the [photovoltaic] panel generates electricity with energy efficiency higher than 11%, which is at least 9 times higher than those achieved in the previously published works,” the study states.
In previous research attempts, scientists have been able to distill water for human use, but lagged behind in electricity generation. The new device makes itself an economically viable alternative for clean energy, according to the researchers.
“This strategy provides a potential possibility to transform an electricity generation plant from otherwise a water consumer to a fresh water producer,” the scientists said in the study.
In 2019, the World Economic Forum listed water scarcity as one of the largest potential global impacts in the next decade. Study researchers said that by 2025, massive installation of the device could be used to produce up to 4 billion cubic meters of fresh water a year, the equivalent of 10% of the total global drinking water consumed in 2017.