Science News

Solar panels modified to distill water with wasted heat

A group of researchers has discovered that it is possible to capture and use the heat wasted in solar panels for a water distillation process to become clean.

In the study, researchers from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology have in fact made changes to classic solar panels to allow and facilitate a salt water purification process so that it can be drunk safely.

The researchers added several layers under the solar panels that included a three-stage distillation unit. The heat that is not intercepted by the solar panel comes out from the back of the panel where it is used to heat saltwater. Once the latter has evaporated, it passes through a membrane and then condenses and eventually becomes drinking water.

In addition to removing the salt, this distillation process also removes dirt and other particles, particularly dangerous heavy metals. Furthermore, the solar panels modified in this way can produce more efficiently the distilled water than the so-called “solar stills,” water desalinators usually used in emergency situations.

Furthermore, the same solar panels do not see their efficiency reduced: they simply use the heat that would otherwise be lost. Such systems could, of course, be used in all places where drinking water is not easily found but saltwater is present, for example near the sea.

The study was published in Nature Communications.