Record-breaking solar still purifies water with clever geometry and … paper?

carbon dipped paper water purifier triangular
University at Buffalo

There is nothing new about the idea of using the sun’s energy to evaporate and thereby purify water. In fact, the idea was described by the Greek philosopher Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. But researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have found a way to improve on this concept and sanitize water at what appear to be record-breaking rates. In doing so, they could help solve one of the world’s most important problems: The continued lack of access to clean water for a large number of people around the world.

Led by associate professor of electrical engineering Qiaoqiang Gan, the researchers developed a practical and low-cost device that uses black, carbon-dipped paper to create a solar still. The still works by using a strip of this carbon-dipped paper — shaped like an upside-down V — which hangs into water to soak it up. When it is heated by sunlight, it encourages evaporation, although the specific angle of the strip means that it is not hit directly by the sun’s rays. The paper’s sloped geometry thereby allows it remain below room temperature, which lets it draw in heat from its surroundings. The result is a more efficient evaporation cycle, and more water vapor gathered. With a solar still the size of a mini fridge, the researchers estimate that they can generate 10 to 20 liters of clean water every single day.

“In recent years, significant interest has developed in using sunlight for electricity-free vapor generation due to its potential to address limitations in fresh water availability around the globe,” Gan told Digital Trends. “However, when systems operate at higher temperatures, conduction, convection, and radiation losses are inevitable, and limit the overall attainable efficiency. In this new report, we developed an opposite approach, using solar energy to generate cold vapor below room temperature.”

To bring the product to market, the team has launched a startup called Sunny Clean Water. It hopes to create a sun-powered water purifier based on this new research.

“We are [currently] working with two NGOs to perform field tests in remote areas and areas affected by natural disaster: One in Puerto Rico, another one in Philippines,” Gan said. “Puerto Rico was destroyed because of [a major] storm in 2017. The NGO in [the] Philippines aims to help residents in remote villages with no access to electricity or water-purification utilities. I am on my way to Argentina to discuss their local needs.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Advanced Science.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

Whether by the pool or the sea, make a splash with the best waterproof phones

Whether you're looking for a phone you can use in the bath, or you just want that extra peace of mind, waterproof phones are here and they're amazing. Check out our selection of the best ones you can buy.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.