You might not think twice about clean water as it comes gushing out of your tap on a daily basis. However, for a large part of the world it's a scarcity. Many innovative solutions have been attempted, much like this solar panel plant in Kenya, but there's still a long road to walk along until clean water is readily available.
A joint team of researchers from the U.S. Army and the University of Rochester has joined forces to look into the matter and has created a "super-wicking" anti-gravity aluminum panel that uses solar power to purify water.
The study was published in Nature Sustainability.
Solar power and clean water
The U.S. Army, or any army for that fact, is a prime example of a group of people who can't always easily get their hands on clean, drinkable water. Hence its involvement in the research.
The team's new technology uses a regular aluminum panel that's treated with ultrashort femtosecond laser pulses that create a grooved ultra-black surface. This turns the material highly absorbent, something called "super-wicking." It goes against gravity, pulling water from the water reservoir upwards along the panel.
Thanks to the pitch black material of the panel it harnesses more energy from the sun and is able to keep hold of most of it to heat up the water. The evaporation process rids it of contaminants.
"These three things together enable the technology to operate better than an ideal device at 100 percent efficiency," said Professor Chunlei Guo, professor of optics at the University of Rochester. "This is a simple, durable, inexpensive way to address the global water crisis, especially in developing nations."
The system can cut down on contaminants such as dye, urine, heavy metals, detergents, and glycerin to a level that's safe for drinking. Moreover, the device is easy to clean and reconfigurable.
Guo explained that "The biggest advantage is that the angle of the panels can be continuously adjusted to directly face the sun as it rises and then moves across the sky before setting – maximizing energy absorption."
This would mean safe drinking water for the Army as it moves around in parts of the world where water isn't safe to drink, but it would also prove massively useful for civilians worldwide in need of clean water to drink.