Oct 12, 2015

Solar powered Reverse Osmosis water purification system

Deep in the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula, residents of the remote Mexican village of La Mancalona are producing clean drinking water using the power of the sun.

For nearly two years now, members of the community, most of whom are subsistence farmers, have operated and maintained a solar-powered water purification system engineered by researchers at MIT.

The system consists of two solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity; these, in turn, power a set of pumps that push water through semiporous membranes in a filtration process called reverse osmosis. The setup purifies both brackish well water and collected rainwater, producing about 1,000 liters of purified water a day for the 450 residents.

Since the PVRO system was installed, the village has been operating it as a business, selling 20-liter bottles of water to residents for 5 pesos — a price that the community agreed upon, and about one-tenth the price of bottled water that is intermittently supplied by a centralized facility an hour's drive from the village.

At this price, the community reaps a profit of about 49,000 pesos, or $3,600, per year. The community has appointed a committee to manage the incoming funds, setting aside some money for maintenance and repair of the system, and investing the rest back into the community. 

"They're also trying to develop a business plan focused on selling clean water to tourists who come to the local Mayan ruins," Elasaad says. "So it's been interesting seeing what they've done with this new economy."

She adds that the residents in La Mancalona have taken ownership of the technology, having been trained to operate it on a day-to-day basis, from changing out ultraviolet lights and filters to testing the water quality and replacing batteries.

The MIT-developed system is located next to a government tower that contains undrinkable water, and only intermittently. Photo: Field and Space Robotics Laboratory/Fondo Para La Paz

Desalination Journal - Field evaluation of a community scale solar powered water purification technology: A case study of a remote Mexican community application

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