This suitcase makes drinking water from the sea

This portable desalinization unit is light, energy efficient, and uses electricity to remove salt
Clean drinking water is not a luxury everyone enjoys. (ID 44066082 © Luchschen |

May 7 to 22 is Science Odyssey, a celebration of all things science! OWLconnected is recognizing this two-week event with lots of science content, as well as with an amazing contest, presented by our friends at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Details are at the end of this post—be sure to enter!

So much water, so little to drink

Earth's surface is over 70 percent water. And yet, one of the world's biggest issues is a lack of clean drinking water for people. Nearly a billion people do not have access to basic drinking water services.

There are a few reasons for this, including pollution and climate change. But maybe the simplest reason is this—almost all of the water on Earth is saltwater, which we can't drink. Only around 2.5 percent of the world's water is freshwater. And most of that is frozen! If we could somehow find a way to make saltwater drinkable—remove the salt—we'd be in a much better place.

This process—called desalinization—is actually something that we know how to do. Many large cities have desalinization plants to make drinking water from the sea. But this process is expensive, uses a lot of energy, and is confined to the big cities. Until now!

After a decade of prototypes, researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have unveiled a miraculous invention. It is a suitcase-sized portable desalinization unit. Just drink and go!

Electrifying news

A look inside the suitcase. (M. Scott Brauer)

There are many cool things about this gadget, but one of the best parts is how it uses electricity to remove the salt. Many desalinization units this size would rely on actual filters—these are physical units that can wear down and get replaced.

But this unit uses something called ion concentration polarization (ICP) to purify the water. This is an electrical process that removes solids from the water. (This process doesn't quite remove all of the salt, so the inventors added a second process, called electrodialysis, to complete the job.)

Even better, this device doesn't use a lot of juice (we mean power, not actual juice, though it doesn't use that either). It uses so little power that it can be run off a solar powered battery.

Why this is a breakthrough

As you can see, there is a lot to love about this machine. You not only get drinking water without salt, but also without other possible pollutants dissolved inside. And it is light enough to be carried anywhere. Super win!

Of course, on its own it is not a solution to the world's water problems. It is quite slow, giving you about a cup of water after a half hour of running. But in places where drinking water is scarce or for people on the go in remote areas, it is one useful device!

To see it in action, watch the video below. The first half describes the technology (which is quite complex), but you can also skip to 1:45 to see the unit in action. Drink up!

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Don't forget to enter the Science Odyssey Contest! CLICK HERE TO ENTER.

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