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Use of Concentrating Solar Power for Water Desalination


This project will apply low cost solar technologies to provide drinking water to isolated communities in water scarce regions.  The project will also use the concepts of Industrial Symbiosis to create by-product from effluent brine that can increase the financial performance of the technology.  We expect the project to reduce the cost and environmental impacts of drinking water significantly, even before selling of by-products.  The project will use Linear Fresnel Collectors to boil sea water and obtain distilled water, later adding necessary minerals to turn it into drinking water.  It will then investigate by-product opportunities from the treatment of the effluent brine in the process. 

Concentrating solar power technologies are commonly used for power generation, which requires a great amount of reflective surface to obtain high-temperature steam. In the case of distilled water, we require a smaller amount of reflective surface, can modularize the technology for decentralized water supply, and therefore reduce costs significantly.

Our project focuses on a pilot implementation in the region of Hermosillo Coast, near Hermosillo, Mexico.  We focus in particular on the small community of Tastiota and its surroundings.  Present water supply to the communities we are working with depends on weekly deliveries by tanker truck, which come from considerable distances.  The costs of fossil fuels and poor infrastructure used in delivery make this an expensive and environmentally harmful option.  It also limits the amount of water available to each household, which is subject to rations.  Further, the water delivered is not appropriate for consumptive purposes.

Because of the modularity and scale of the technology proposed, fossil fuels used in deliveries will be avoided and road conditions would not be a factor.  Supply can be increased to the communities and both consumptive and non-consumptive demand can be satisfied.  It is expected that the cost and environmental impacts per gallon of water delivered will be significantly lower than business-as-usual and the prospects for scale up are promising.

Project activities to design and build a Linear Fresnel Collector and Distillation System include:

  • Solid Works actual design and continuous improvement
  • Complete automation and testing of tracking system
  • Mirrors optical testing
  • Thermal testing
  • Receiver design and tests
  • Desalination unit design and tests
  • Complete system tests
  • Define salt harvesting process
  • Test salt harvesting process
  • Community engagement and introduction to technology

Watch video produced by the University of Michigan Erb Institute, entitled, Solar Energy Technology in Mexico's Coastal Regions

University of Michigan - Energy Institute
University of Michigan - Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise
Research Areas
Water Resources