Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Cleaning up drinking water

In many areas of the world, potable water presents a daily challenge. This is a major problem in southern European regions where tourism places a further demand on its availability.
Cleaning up drinking water
In areas with scarce potable water, seawater and groundwater have to be desalinated to meet consumption needs for both service providers (such as hotels) and end users. This process, however, calls for hefty investments and expensive operations; it is also not environmentally friendly due to high consumption levels of electrical energy. Many common desalination technologies also require large amounts of (costly) fossil fuels, which translate to high CO2 emissions.

Hope comes in the form of a specific desalination technology that uses the Sun as its only energy source, doing away with dependence on fossil fuels and external electricity supply. High efficiency can be achieved using a low-level temperature and applying a vacuum distillation process that relies on gravitation rather than a pump for production. At the same time, modular design allows for adaptation to varying consumer demands on water production capacities.

This technology was used and further developed in the EU-funded project 'Low cost low energy technology to desalinate water into potable water' (DESOL). The team worked to deliver an innovative, environmentally friendly and efficient process that desalinates water using low-level thermal energy provided by solar collectors.

Laboratory experiments showed it is possible to achieve an efficiency of between 80 % and 85 %. Other tests focused on the distillation tank and the vacuum generation principle, with a number of sub-systems being designed and independently tested. Project partners placed emphasis on the solar pump system, measures against fouling and scaling and, above all, the automatic control and adjustment system. The outcome was a 100 % mechanical/ thermo-mechanical control and adjustment system able to adapt to changing conditions of the distillation process.

Following these achievements, the DESOL project went on to extend its system to a two-stage distillation system. Efforts in this direction aimed at decreasing energy demand and proving the viability of the proposed multi-stage process.

A market survey evaluating the DESOL technology noted its high potential for use in decentralised water production in small and medium-sized facilities. Another major advantage is that the technology can be integrated into renewable energy hybrid systems. Knowledge generated in this project is also suitable for application in the water purification and chemical industries, for example.

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