Scientists Develop Solar Technology Could Produce Safe Drinking Water for Millions in Need

Sunday, June 30, 2019 - 10:07

Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have developed a new material that could speed the process of evaporation, enabling a small solar still to provide all the drinking water one family needs.

According to the AAAS report, scientist at the University of Texas in Austin recently reported a way that involves hydrogels, polymer mixtures that form a 3D porous, water—absorbent network.

Guihua Yu and colleagues fashioned a gellike sponge of two polymers—one a water-binding polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the other a light absorber called polypyrrole (PPy)—which they then placed atop the water’s surface in a solar still.

Inside the gel, a layer of water molecules bonded tightly to the PVA, each forming multiple chemical links known as hydrogen bonds. But with so much of their bonding ability tied up with the PVA, the bound water molecules bind only loosely to other nearby water molecules, creating what Yu calls “intermediate water.”

Researchers mixed in a third polymer, called chitosan, which also strongly attracts water. Adding chitosan to the mix created a gel that could hold more water—and increased the amount of intermediate water as a result.

A still using the new hydrogel distilled water at a rate of 3.6 L/h/m2, the highest rate ever reported and about 12 times the amount produced by today’s commercially available versions, the researchers reported in Science Advances.

If the technology proves cheap enough, it could provide millions of impoverished people access to clean drinking water.

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