desalination desalination An international team of desalination researchers created a new, small-scale system capable of turning brackish water into a clean, potable resource. (Photo: Voronin76 /Shutterstock)

Team creates self-sustaining, clean-powered water system

An international consortium of countries worked together for new desalination tool.

Of all the challenges facing us over the next half-century, access to clean, drinkable water is one of the greatest.

This is especially true in the rural food belts that form the backbone of farming communities. Tapping underground reservoirs can offer one solution, but the water retrieved in some parts of the world is often brackish – not as salty as the sea, but not fit for drinking or agriculture. The most common solution is to simply drink and use what's available – an option that not only results in poor health, but also weakened crops. In other words, we're in desperate need of a plan B.

Enter desalination, a process that removes salt and other minerals from water. Countries around the world have been leveraging this advanced technology along coastlines. A desalination plant in Israel, said to be the largest in the world, produces 40 billion gallons of drinkable water a year. Most recently, the technique is being used in California to help the state cope with its historic drought. But practical applications in more rural regions have fallen short due to scarce infrastructure, financial shortcomings or both.

But hope may be on the horizon in part thanks to the Desal Prize – an international competition sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Have access to terrible water, but forced to drink it anyway for lack of anything else? This is the organization attempting to change all that.

This year's competition was tight – with 68 initial applicants from 29 countries whittled down to three winners. One of the top prizes went to Team Green Desal, an international consortium of desalination researchers from Texas, Israel, Brazil, Nepal and Jordan. Their winning design, utilizing off-the-shelf components and a renewable energy system, combines the latest in proven desalination tech, squeezed into a tight portable package that requires very little maintenance. It's easy to see why this innovative team walked away with a $125,000 prize.


"Our system will help provide potable water to rural and remote areas throughout the world, particularly in lower- and middle-income economies," the team told USAID. "As a result, food security will improve."

The next step for the team will be to utilize the prize money to implement a fully working system in the rural, water-challenged regions of Jordan. Should that prove successful, Green Desal will expand globally to other communities facing similar resource hardships. "We hope that the experience the team is gaining will help to keep improving our design such that it would provide practical solutions all over the world," the team said.

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Team creates self-sustaining, clean-powered water system
An international consortium of countries worked together for new desalination tool.