Solar-powered desalination unit
A solar-powered desalination unit produces potable water from saline water through direct or indirect methods of desalination powered by sunlight. Countries such as Australia, Italy and Egypt have adopted this system as an alternative source of water for the population.
Direct solar desalination produces distillate directly in the solar collector. An example would be a solar still which traps the Sun's energy to obtain freshwater through the process of evaporation and condensation. Indirect solar desalination incorporates solar energy collection systems with conventional desalination systems such as multi-stage flash distillation, multiple effect evaporation, freeze separation or reverse osmosis to produce freshwater.
The intermittent nature of sunlight and its variable intensity throughout the day makes predicting its efficiency difficult. However, incorporating a thermal energy storage system solves this problem and ensures constant performance even during non-sunlight hours and cloudy days, improving overall efficiency.
One type of solar desalination unit is a solar still, it is also similar to a condensation trap. A solar still is a simple way of distilling water, using the heat of the Sun to drive evaporation from humid soil, and ambient air to cool a condenser film. Two basic types of solar stills are box and pit stills. In a solar still, impure water is contained outside the collector, where it is evaporated by sunlight shining through clear plastic. The pure water vapor condenses on the cool inside plastic surface and drips down from the weighted low point, where it is collected and removed. The box type is more sophisticated. The basic principles of solar water distillation are simple, yet effective, as distillation replicates the way nature makes rain. The sun's energy heats water to the point of evaporation. As the water evaporates, water vapor rises, condensing on the glass surface for collection. This process removes impurities, such as salts and heavy metals, and eliminates microbiological organisms. The end result is water cleaner than the purest rainwater.
A solar powered desalination unit designed for remote communities has been tested in the Northern Territory of Australia. The "reverse-osmosis solar installation" (ROSI) uses membrane filtration to provide a reliable and clean drinking water stream from sources such as brackish groundwater. Solar energy overcomes the usually high-energy operating costs as well as greenhouse emissions of conventional reverse osmosis systems. ROSI can also remove trace contaminants such as arsenic and uranium that may cause certain health problems, and minerals such as calcium carbonate which causes water hardness.
Project leader Dr Andrea Schaefer from the University of Wollongong's Faculty of Engineering said ROSI has the potential to bring clean water to remote communities throughout Australia that do not have access to a town water supply and/or the electricity grid.
Groundwater (which may contain dissolved salts or other contaminants) or surface water (which may have high turbidity or contain microorganisms) is pumped into a tank with an ultrafiltration membrane, which removes viruses and bacteria. This water is fit for cleaning and bathing. Ten percent of that water undergoes nanofiltration and reverse osmosis in the second stage of purification, which removes salts and trace contaminants, producing drinking water. A photovoltaic solar array tracks the Sun and powers the pumps needed to process the water, using the plentiful sunlight available in remote regions of Australia not served by the power grid.
- Solar thermal desalination technologies
- Low temperature desalination using solar collectors augmented by thermal energy storage
- "Award-winning Solar Powered Desalination Unit aims to solve Central Australian water problems". University of Wollongong. 4 November 2005. Retrieved 2017-07-19.
- PV-Powered Desalination in Australia: Technology Development and Applications