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Research: Solar Panel Desalinates Water

Thursday, September 5, 2019

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To address issues connected to both energy generation and access to fresh water, researchers based out of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in Saudi Arabia, recently developed a solar panel prototype that can both generate power and desalinate water.

According to the university, the desalination process does not impact the energy output of the solar panel. The product could also theoretically be used on a mounted system, utilizing the same land for both activities.

Desalinating Solar Panel

Current water-purifying technologies are known for consuming a lot of power, and can require an amount of infrastructure that is not feasible for communities that already do not have access to safe drinking water, notes The Guardian. Since solar panels are also often found in areas like deserts, they could do double duty in providing clean water for nearby residents.

Wenbin Wang, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

To address issues connected to both energy generation and access to fresh water, researchers based out of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in Saudi Arabia, recently developed a solar panel prototype that can both generate power and desalinate water.

The research, which was published in Nature Communications, details that in order to create this special kind of solar panel, they placed a horizontal commercial solar cell on top, underneath which are a number of tiers that help purify water running through. Heat left over from the solar panel helps warm the water, which then evaporates and passes through a membrane, from there recondensing into clean water. The final steps include a repeat of the process, and purified water is then released.

According to the university, the prototype produced 1.64 liters of water per square meter of solar panel surface per hour, more than doubling the output of traditional solar stills. (These often utilize a one-stage design.)

Moving forward, the team also hopes to use the panel idea in an agricultural context.

“Raising sheep in the field of PV farms is feasible because grass grows well using the fresh water from solar-panel washing,” said Ph.D. student Wenbin Wang. “A PV farm with sheep grazing while seawater is being desalinated using our device could be ideal in arid regions near the coast.”

Otherwise, according to Insider, startup Zero Mass Water is producing a panel that condenses water out of the air, then filtering it. Indian startup Uravu is also producing a modular system, which uses solar, that can condense up to 20 liters of water from the air per day.

   

Tagged categories: AF; Colleges and Universities; Middle East; potable water; Program/Project Management; Research and development; Solar; Solar energy

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/5/2019, 7:52 AM)

This method of using heat to desalinate makes a lot of sense - it would keep the solar panels cooler, which improves efficiency. They will need to get the product working at an angle for anywhere not near the equator - otherwise the panels will miss a lot of the available sunlight (for fixed panels, you typically want the angle of panel tilt to match your latitude.) Of course, most utility scale solar these days is using one-axis tracking, which further boosts output. Fixed angle is usually relegated to commercial and residential rooftop installations.


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