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Solar power helping to purify water in remote communities

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SOLARSmall remote communities in the developing world face major health problems due to lack of clean water. Now, thanks to new solar-powered technology, residents of a remote village in Mexico are producing their own purified drinking water.

In a case study published in the journal Desalination, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States, researchers behind the new technology describe how, together with the villagers of La Mancalona in the Yucatan peninsula, they developed and implemented a way to make the water purification system self-sustaining in the long term.

La Mancalona is home to around 450 indigenous residents, mostly subsistence farmers and beekeepers. In their paper, the authors describe the technical and economic models they used to translate the technology from the lab to the field and configure it for the community.

Thanks to the development methods and materials used, the villagers are able to operate and maintain the water purification system themselves, which they have been doing for nearly two years now.

The technology works using electricity generated from solar panels to power pumps that push water through a filter. The process is called “photovoltaic powered reverse osmosis.” The system implemented at La Mancalona uses two solar panels and produces about 1,000 liters of purified water a day from brackish well water and collected rainwater.

Senior author Steven Dubowsky, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the case study shows that with careful design and training, non-expert communities can operate high-tech systems themselves. He says their paper shows how you can change the culture of a poor community; in this case, they used their engineering knowledge to produce a high-quality system and then trained the community in how to use it in a sustainable way.

The system is operated as a community business. The villagers pay a price they can afford for the purified water, and this amount makes the system self-sustainable, say the researchers.


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