Desalination is the process of removing salts and particulates from water to make it drinkable for humans. The global market for this technology has been forecasted to grow to $32 billion by 2027, and today it stands around $20 billion. As World populations grow and water resources are squeezed, desalination may stand in the gap for those countries and communities facing a deficit.
Desalination has been attempted at a large scale for years. Salt works in which sea water was boiled to gain the salt for consumption have been around for hundreds of years. The problem with current desalination technology is the size of the operation needed to support growing populations, the energy consumed during preparation and the scope of these operations. There are for example, 11-desalination plants in California, with the demand forecasted to rise. Impacts on the environment including drought and aquifer over usage have made alternative water sources important for our future. Millions already depend on desalination, and millions more will need to adopt some form of this technology in the future.
Researchers have made major strides recently in desalination. A major issue with the desalination process is that a large amount of energy is required to pump water through filters to remove salt. Water can also be evaporated and collected, but the issue of energy consumption remains. Recently, MIT scientists have created a portable desalination unit that is the size of a suitcase, uses less power than cell-phone charger and doesn’t use filters to make water safe to drink. The unit uses ion concentration polarization to filter water using a charged particle channel to remove all sources of contamination. This technology is a game changer for the desalination industry, and is far cheaper and more efficient than other proposed methods. Lasers and chemical processes have been trialed in the past, but this unit with its low-power demand and portability is great for those who need water the most. The MIT team has been able to link the desalination units together and is working on an easy to use interface that can be controlled through a smart phone.
Humans require 2.7-3.7 liters of water per day to be healthy during normal circumstances. As the World’s population increases, so does the need for water. Only 3% of the World’s water is fresh and consumable for drinking, but 0.5% is readably available for consumption. As we approach 10-billion people on Earth, we must make strides in desalination technology. Countries with high population growth in Africa and the Middle East will benefit from the technology, and as we move towards ion capture technology from large filter banks, expect the technology to improve by leaps and bounds.
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