Desalinating water in a greener and more economical way

Researchers at EPFL have developed a machine that turns seawater into drinking water in a more environmentally friendly and economical way than existing systems. A spin-off, Aqualife Global, has now been set up to develop and commercialize the technology.

We know that excessive consumption, industrial activity and growth in the global population are some of the factors threatening access to drinking water for an increasing proportion of people around the world. According to UNESCO figures from 2012, almost 700 million people suffer from limited access to water – and that number could rise to 1.8 billion by 2025.

Desalination and the treatment of industrial wastewater can produce large amounts of drinking water, and these methods are already used in many countries and regions such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, Europe and the USA. However, existing systems are costly and use a lot of energy.

Jeff Ong, from EPFL’s Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis, has developed a water treatment machine that combines the benefits of all of the main technologies currently being used while offering improved performance. For example, the prototype removes more than 99.9% of the salt from seawater with the same throughput but using less energy. The system will be tested in real-world conditions this year.