- Desalination plant will use solar energy to pump and boil 4000 litres of contaminated water every day in Arizona, USA
Arizona’s underground water is half as salty as seawater, and a study found that it contains dangerous levels of uranium and arsenic.
The Bureau of Reclamation and engineers at the University of Arizona think they have come up with a way to help, by building a self-sufficient, solar-powered desalination plant.
Construction began in mid-August. On completion in 2013, it will produce close to 4000 litres of clean water a day, he says. With sufficient funding, the facility could be the first of a series across the reservation. That could halve the cost of hauling water.
Wendell Ela, the project’s lead engineer, has been testing prototypes for the past year in Tucson. He says the process uses electricity from solar panels to pump contaminated water up from the aquifer and boil it.
The steam then passes through a series of membranes that filter out salt and other contaminants. As it cools, the difference in vapour pressure it creates draws more hot water vapour through the system. Purified water is then collected in an external condenser.
Although commercial desalination plants have been used in the Middle East and Australia since the early 1990s, they rely on reverse osmosis or multistage distillation – processes that are technically challenging and expensive to maintain.
By contrast, the team’s membrane desalination system is ideal for an isolated population that does not have access to an electrical grid, Ela says. It is built using simple, low-tech, off-the-shelf components. The team is aiming to build a system lasting 30 to 40 years that would require only periodic maintenance. “We had to design the system to be within the capacity and budget of the water-users,” he says.
The impact on Navajo life would be profound. If the other planned desalination plants are built in the reservation, they could provide running water to tens of thousands of Navajo who have never had it.
Reference: New Scientist