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Researchers Use Sunlight, Black Paper as Low-Cost Water Treatment to Solve Water Scarcity

Feb 27, 2017 09:27 AM EST
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Solar Impulse 2: Solar-powered plane makes history after completing around the world flight
Water
In the future, every household will be able to produce nearly three liters of water daily from thin air using the solar-powered tool.
(Photo : Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Researchers from the State University of New York have released a new study that elaborated a new method to use sunlight to distill drinking water.

The idea behind the research is not surprisingly new as it has been used as early as 500 B.C.E. when Aristotle deduced that salt can be removed from seawater using sunlight. This is why solar stills are still being used since the industrial revolution, but prove ineffective in producing a sufficient amount of water enough to sustain a person who wants to survive in the wilderness.

Qiaoqiang Gan, the co-author of the study published in the journal Global Challenges, created a solar vapor generator and condensor. His method uses porous water with carbon black, a material that has near-zero "reflectivity" and can absorb an extremely large amount of solar heat.

Gan's team put a carbon-covered paper on top of a foam and a thermal insulator. This focuses heat onto the carbon layer, which is then placed on a dirty water source. Interestingly, the "paper" acts as a sponge, with the carbon as an evaporator.

It is a known fact that majority of the world is covered with water. Unfortunately, most of that is not suitable for people to drink. According to Salon, if we exclude seawater, glaciers and ice caps, less than one percent of the planet's water could be found in lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers. Even then, the water from these places still has to be treated to get rid of harmful chemicals.

According to The Water Project, water scarcity is a growing problem worldwid, with one of out nine people affected worldwide. Much of the illnesseses in undeveloped countries stem to poor hydration and sanitation.

Gan said their prototype can produce three times more potable water than functioning solar stills. This means that they can make 4.2 cups of water per hour provided that there's abundant sunlight.

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