Highly polluted waters and seawater can be transformed into renewable sources of purified drinking water and green hydrogen fuels thanks to an innovative new device developed at Cambridge University.
The floating solar-powered technology is the type of solution desperately needed by the 1.8 billion people worldwide still lacking safe drinking water at home and offers an alternative to the dirty fuels, like kerosene, many are forced to cook with; that are responsible, according to the World Health Organization, for three million deaths annually.
The device, inspired by the process of photosynthesis, works without the need for outside power, so for remote, offgrid environments and communities, it’s a potentially lifesaving breakthrough.
“In remote or developing regions, where clean water is relatively scarce and the infrastructure necessary for water purification is not readily available, water splitting is extremely difficult,” said co-lead author Ariffin Mohamad Annuar. “A device that could work using contaminated water could solve two problems at once: it could split water to make clean fuel, and it could make clean drinking water.”
The simple design of the innovation should also make it easy to scale.
“It’s such a simple design: in just a few steps, we can build a device that works well on water from a wide variety of sources,” said Mohamad Annuar.
Further R&D will now be needed to develop the proof of principle technology.
“Our device is still a proof of principle, but these are the sorts of solutions we will need if we’re going to develop a truly circular economy and sustainable future,” added Professor Erwin Reisner, who led the research. “The climate crisis and issues around pollution and health are closely related, and developing an approach that could help address both would be a game-changer for so many people.”
The results of the team’s research are reported in the journal Nature Water.