In the era of smartphones and self-driving cars, many communities still lack access to electricity and clean water. A multidisciplinary research team developed an economical, green solution capable of addressing these needs.
Their standalone water-energy nanogrid consists of a purification system that uses solar energy to decontaminate water. The setup is mathematically tuned to optimally utilize solar energy so that the water filtration is unhindered by the fluctuations of solar energy during the day.
An efficient way to decontaminate water is by passing it through purification systems that utilize pumps to push water through a filter. However, the pumps require electricity, which is scarce in many remote regions. The researchers looked for a solution that would support the power and water requirements of these communities.
Their model revealed that by using nanofiltration, a type of purification technique, harvesting solar energy during peak availability only was sufficient to run pumps and purify water. In other words, the water nanofiltration system was largely unaffected by the day-to-day vagaries in solar energy and could purify enough water to meet the weekly needs of the community.
Any excess solar power unused for filtration could be stashed away either for storage in the battery pack or other basic household needs, like charging cell phone batteries.
Using a rigorous mathematical approach to interlink water purification and energy provision, a robust quantitative framework was developed that can be used in any scenario based on local conditions.
This work was supported in part by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas A&M Energy Institute and the National Science Foundation.