As blogged on ScienceAlert.com, a compact device that uses waste heat shed by solar cells to purify water could one day change the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
The new spin on old technology from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia promises to ease increasing pressures on the nexus point between water and energy that threatens our future.
These two resources are conveniences many of us take for granted. But more than 780 million people around the world currently lack easy access to clean water. Even more people don’t have electricity at the flick of a switch.
Missing out on water and electricity not only puts communities at direct risk of illness through contamination, it makes it harder to grow crops, raise livestock, or maintain stocks of food and medicine.
Perhaps even more importantly, there’s the Catch-22 relationship between clean water and electricity we rarely give much thought to.
Limited access to relatively fresh water makes it impossible to efficiently generate the steam required for power on an appreciable scale. And without a convenient source of power, water can be harder to decontaminate or even reach in the first place.
Fields of solar panels can bring electricity to populations in remote, dry places. But hosing them down with water is a good way to keep them clear of dust, which is not easily done in such arid locations.
With two birds to kill, researchers behind this latest project realised they could solve both problems by creating a photovoltaic cell that uses sunlight as both a means to generate electricity and distil water.