Access to water for world's poor

More than one in six people lack access to safe drinking water around the world, that’s roughly 1,1 billion people, analysts are increasingly raising concerns about possible water wars which
may occur in the near future as water becomes more and more scarce, one possible solution for large parts of Africa and Asia is the creation of small decentralised water treatment plants with
an autonomous power supply.

These treatment centres can help transform salty seawater or brackish water into pure drinking water for the immediate population.

With many arid regions of Africa and Asia suffering from severe water shortages, European enterprises are stepping in to lend a helping hand, providing local communities with the tools
necessary to supply themselves with drinkable water. In the past, solutions have traditionally focused on large industrial desalination plants which are capable of supplying 50 million cubic
metres of fresh water every day.

This technology, however, is not suitable for the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa and India, though these are the very places where it is becoming increasingly difficult to supply drinking
water, particularly in rural areas. ‘The regions have a very poor infrastructure,’ explains Joachim Koschikowski of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg. ‘Quite
often there is no electricity grid, so conventional desalination plants are out of the question.’ Over the years, he and his team have participated in several EU-funded projects aimed at
developing small, decentralised water desalination plants that produce fresh drinking water using their own independent solar power supply.

‘Our plants work on the principle of membrane distillation,’ says Dr Koschikowski. The principle involved is similar to the processes involved in a Gore-Tex jacket, in which the membrane
prevents rainwater from penetrating through to the skin. At the same time, water vapour formed inside the jacket by perspiration is passed through to the outside.

The researchers have so far built two different systems, both with their own energy supply. ‘Our compact system for about 120 litres of fresh water per day consists of six square metres of
thermal solar collectors, a small photovoltaic module to power a pump, and the desalination module itself,’ says Dr Koschikowski.

‘When you think how much the inhabitants currently have to pay for the same amount of bottled water or soft drinks, the plant will pay off very quickly,’ he adds. The test plants in Gran
Canaria and in Jordan have been operating successfully for some time. The researchers are therefore planning to market the plants through a spin-off known as ‘SolarSpring’ from the middle of
this year.

For further information, please see:
World Water Council

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