Portable Seawater Desalination System for Generating Drinkable Water in Remote Locations
A portable seawater desalination system would be highly desirable to solve water challenges in rural areas and disaster situations. While many reverse osmosis-based portable desalination systems are already available commercially, they are not adequate for providing reliable drinking water in remote locations due to the requirement of high-pressure pumping and repeated maintenance. We demonstrate a field-deployable desalination system with multistage electromembrane processes, composed of two-stage ion concentration polarization and one-stage electrodialysis, to convert brackish water and seawater to drinkable water. A data-driven predictive model is used to optimize the multistage configuration, and the model predictions show good agreement with the experimental results. The portable system desalinates brackish water and seawater (2.5–45 g/L) into drinkable water (defined by WHO guideline), with the energy consumptions of 0.4–4 (brackish water) and 15.6–26.6 W h/L (seawater), respectively. In addition, the process can also reduce suspended solids by at least a factor of 10 from the source water, resulting in crystal clear water (<1 NTU) even from the source water with turbidity higher than 30 NTU (i.e., cloudy seawater by the tide). We built a fully integrated prototype (controller, pumps, and battery) packaged into a portable unit (42 × 33.5 × 19 cm3, 9.25 kg, and 0.33 L/h production rate) controlled by a smartphone, tested for battery-powered field operation. The demonstrated portable desalination system is unprecedented in size, efficiency, and operational flexibility. Therefore, it could address unique water challenges in remote, resource-limited regions of the world.