Turning Salt Water to Fresh Water InexpensivelyHave you ever been to the point where you felt totally dehydrated and unable to find anything to quench your thirst? If so, you can relate to the estimated 3.4 million people from around the world who die each year from lack of access to fresh water. In fact, even though the US is generally blessed with an abundance of fresh, clean water, this summer’s Midwest drought situation even gave us time to speculate what it would be like to have our wells dry up. During this time, even though we still expected to open the spigot and find a fresh, clean supply of water, we learned to conserve this precious resource by watching the amount of it that we were using to water our lawns and take our daily showers.

So what happens in those areas of the world where this commodity is hard to find? Until now, the choices have been meager, centering around building desalination plants or going without. This has meant that providing inexpensive, fresh water for inhabitants of countries surrounded by salt water has always been a challenge — that is, until now.

While having known for thousands of years that a lack of fresh water is a problem, it has taken until the 21st century for researchers to perform a minor miracle and develop an inexpensive means of converting salt water to fresh. This new technology, called Eliodomestico, incorporates a simple process used by bootleggers to produce moonshine. This desalination process is inexpensive because it only requires the user to have access to a clay pot and a metal pan.

Apparently, these items, along with solar energy, are all that are needed. Salt water can be heated in a mini-still that uses the sun’s energy to evaporate it into vapor. The effectiveness of the process is achieved when water comes into contact with the hot sides of the clay pot, causing the water to evaporate and form droplets, which are collected in a basin. The user is then able to take the clear, purified water home, leaving the salt and other impurities behind to be disposed of later. Compared to a desalination plant that can cost hundreds of millions, these simple-to-use units can operate at a fraction of the cost.

While the above would be an individual solution, professionals are now also exploring the possibility of creating a unit that would be large enough to supply water for an entire village. If they are successful, it is also easy to see a future where solar panels could be used to help warm the water and / or provide a minimal amount of electricity that could make a villager’s life more comfortable.

For some villagers, the current design price — estimated to be about $50 pre-built — may still be too high. But once shown what is required, villagers may be able to configure their own schematics, which would further lower the cost. While this is acknowledged to be a wonderful development for those in third world countries, it must be noted that the system will only work to a certain extent. Each unit will only work under favorable weather conditions and is currently limited to producing only five liters of fresh water a day. To be a reliable source of safe, fresh water, one would think that the developers would find a way to incorporate a storage container into their design. One would also think that developers would want to design it in such a way as to ensure that the water was kept fresh and free from contaminants. Installing some type of netting that would act as a deterrent to mosquitoes that might use it as a breeding ground would also be ideal.

While it is true that I have concentrated on the advantages of this technology to third world countries, I can see its benefits right here in the US. In fact, I can see its application in a place that many consider paradise. Where is paradise? My daughter believes that it is found in Hawaii. So why would I suggest that this paradise needs access to fresh water? Well, on the Big Island of Hawaii, just south of Kona, there is a residential community in which there is no water system. The locals in this area are forced to use a system where water is delivered by truck in what look like railway containers that have been cut in half. Though I always thought that this water would work fine for bathing and washing dishes, I was somewhat skeptical as well as concerned about the sanitary conditions, leaving me in a quandary about its use as drinking water.

So my general impression with this concept is that it’s a great start; with a few modifications, it may be the answer to fresh water concerns — not only in third world countries, but for those in the US, as well. In other words, the Eliodomestico could be the answer to supplying a person’s daily fresh water needs and all they would have to do is haul a few gallons of saltwater to the machine in order to meet one person’s daily requirement of fresh water consumption.

If you got thirsty enough, wouldn’t you be willing to do this small chore to ensure your family’s well-being?

Comments welcome.


CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Cesar R.