Researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) have developed an innovative solar-powered mini desalination system, small enough to fit on a residential roof.

The prototype system can purify greywater from washing machines, showers and dishwashers into pure, drinkable water.

ECU School of Engineering researcher, Dr Abdellah Shafieian, who helped to create the project as part of his PhD, said the system addressed the primary challenge of traditional methods of wastewater treatment and desalination – the large amounts of energy required.

“Our efficient system uses solar membrane technology to harness the energy from the sun to purify the water,” Dr Shafieian said.

“It works by using the sun’s energy to heat water, which then passes through a membrane as a vapour, before it is cooled and condensed back into liquid water, leaving any impurities behind.

“The only energy used in the system is by a series of small pumps, which require less than 90W to run – less than most standard light bulbs.”

Dr Shafieian said as well as wastewater, the system could also desalinate seawater into drinkable water.

“The system can treat around 30 litres of water per square metre of membrane in summer and around 20 litres in winter,” Dr Shafieian said.

The global water shortage

School of Engineering Associate Dean of Research, Associate Professor Mehdi Khiadani, who supervised Dr Shafieian, said with up to two thirds of the world’s population facing water scarcity by 2025, it was vital that solutions were developed to provide reliable, clean drinking water.

“Traditional desalination plants use a huge amount of energy, which in turn produce large emissions of greenhouse gases,” Professor Khiadani said.

“In contrast, our system can be powered entirely by the sun.”

Professor Khiadani said as well as being used as a rooftop system to purify household wastewater, the system could be easily scaled up to provide drinking water to large community and commercial projects.

“It is often difficult and expensive to deliver water to remote and regional towns in Australia who don’t have access to safe drinkable water. So instead of us having to truck water in, this system could provide these towns with a reliable back-up water supply,” Professor Khiadani said.

Next steps

Professor Khiadani said he was keen to work with investors who could help develop the technology into a commercial product.

“Just as rooftop solar panels have changed the way we generate electricity, the system we have developed has the potential to revolutionise the way we provide clean water to households and businesses,” Professor Khiadani said.

“Just like how subsidies underpinned the rapid adoption of rooftop solar, government assistance may be required to encourage people to adopt this new technology as well.”

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