Access to clean water is necessary for communities to live and thrive, but even in this day and age there are water pollution issues at alarmingly high levels, issues that lead to an estimated 30,000 deaths per week caused by unsanitary water. While in the U.S. and in other developed countries the situation isn’t equally alarming to that in developing countries as governments have the needed resources and technologies at their disposal to tend to the problem as effectively as possible, problems still exist even in first-world countries, so no one is spared. Another advantage had by better-developed countries is that people don’t always rely on the work done by local water treatment plants as they have the needed means to handle contaminants in their own homes.
While personal water treatment is an effective solution on an individual basis, helping people stay healthy and able to safely perform certain day to day chores, it doesn’t serve the higher purpose of fixing water shortage worldwide and stopping the outbreak of waterborne illnesses. A potential solution, however, would be the successful implementation of the latest breakthrough discovered by a research team in Austin, which implies the development of a new hydrogel-based solar vapor system.
How the hydrogel system works
What the generator does is use ambient solar power for the evaporation process to provide a more effective desalination and distillation. These nanostructured gels require far less energy, which implies fewer costs as only ambient sunlight levels that are naturally occurring are required for the process to run and significant amounts of water to be evaporated.
As desalination is used to produce freshwater and current technologies are highly energy-consuming, expensive, and require significant infrastructures, the use of solar energy, which is the most sustainable heat source to be potentially used in the distillation process is the best alternative yet.
To prove their efforts successful, the research team used the salt removing properties of the hydrogels on water samples from the Dead Sea. Success was had as, after the desalination process, the water samples were compliant with accepted drinking standards set by the World Health Organization, Optima Institute and the EPA.
Will desalinating water solve shortage issues?
Water shortage is preventing proper development in poor countries, disease at a mass scale, and it lowers the overall quality of our lives. However, the production of clean freshwater provided by the cost-effective purification of this ingenious desalination method could be the end of the crisis once implemented if done so properly. Seeing how even countries like the U.S. face shortage crisis in certain areas, the mass production and distribution of the hydrogel system will allow the transformation of once unusable water into water that can be used and consumed without any health repercussions.
The benefits don’t end with desalination, however, as the transformation of the unusable water into vapors that are pumped into the condensation system implies a clearing of all forms of contaminants that the hydrogel enters into contact with. Thus, the use of this system doesn’t only imply that saltwater will be accessible for use, but it implies a usability of all water sources, regardless of their contamination state. On an individual basis, if the system will be produced for home use, it means that households all around the world will be able to enjoy a more cost-effective, Eco-friendly, and efficient manner to purify water. The researchers behind the idea are putting efforts towards this direction, of course, trying to commercialize it so that their solution will reach as many households as possible soon.
Statistics aren’t great at this point when it comes to desalination as only about 1% of the world’s population is dependent on this purification method to meet daily needs. However, seeing how water scarcity is on the rise, a higher reliance on desalination is mandatory. At the moment, desalination plants that operate worldwide produce approximately 87 million cubic meters per day, providing water for only 300 million people, but these numbers are bound to rise once hydrogel-solar purification is implemented.
Salt might be the hardest compound to separate from water, but as efforts a long time have proven, it’s not an impossible task, and with this new, more efficient method put in application, not only will we thrive as consumable water rates will grow, but so will agricultural practices as irrigation relies of the use of freshwater as well. Thus, the impact to be had is immense, to say the least, as food production will increase worldwide, which in turn helps solve issues related to hunger in poor areas.
Despite efforts at a global scale for longer than we would like to admit, water pollution and shortage are still issues that present a threat to this day. But efforts might have created an unexpected solution under the form of purification using sunlight and hydrogels, the successful implementation of this latest discovery potentially solving water shortage.
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