Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed a device that not only produces electricity, but also provides clean drinking water using only renewable energy for both processes.
The multi-functional device is attached to the backside of the photovoltaic (PV) panel.
Typically, a solar panel turns sunlight into electricity at an efficiency rate of just 20 percent, meaning that the remaining 80 percent of heat is just wasted, mostly in the form of heat in the air.
The scientists have constructed a device with water channels and membranes that uses the heat from the panel to vaporize seawater from one container and condense it into clean fresh water that is collected in another container.
The electricity output at the PV panel is not affected by the water desalination process taking place beneath it.
In future this device could turn an electricity-producing power plant from a water consumer into a fresh water producer.
Moreover, combining solar electricity production with clean water production at one site could slash capital costs for solar and desalination plants because with the device, electricity and desalinated water production would share the land and the system, the scientists say.
The device is still a small proof-of-concept early-stage technology, but researchers hope they can replicate it in a larger size and potentially on a large scale in the future.
Reference- Oilprice website, King Abdullah University website, Journal Nature Communications