University of California researchers harness the sun to bring clean water to drought-stricken farms

University of California researchers harness the sun to bring clean water to drought-stricken farms

In the midst of California’s record-setting drought, researchers at the University of California’s Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar) are using the power of the sun to make water desalination cheaper, more accessible and cleaner.

With soil drying out and water shortages running rampant, California’s farmers have been forced to use reclaimed irrigation water to keep their crops alive. While this reduces their water demands, it is not all greener pastures. Whenever water is used for irrigation, it gets saltier and dirtier, and adding that salt back into the soil can be damaging to crops. An estimated 5,000 acres of previously productive farmland are lost every day to salinization around the world, according to The United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health. 

While there have been efforts to desalinate, or to remove salt and other minerals from, reclaimed irrigation water in California in the past, they have been stymied by hefty price tags and high waste volumes. Even today’s most successful desalination-by-evaporation techniques are energy-intensive and rely on fossil fuels. 

That’s where UC Solar comes in. 

UC Solar avoids the aforementioned roadblocks with a unique solar thermal technology called an “external compound parabolic concentrator” (XCPC). XCPC captures sunlight, then harnesses its heat for various industrial applications. Unlike other solar thermal systems that are available, the XCPC system is inexpensive, lightweight and works well even on hazy or partly cloudy days.

In August, UC Solar was selected to receive a grant from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to demonstrate a solar thermal-powered evaporation system and study its effectiveness in processing agricultural drainage with both economic and environmental efficiency in mind.

“The sun has been evaporating water for billions of years,” says UC Solar executive director Ron Durbin. “All we’re trying to do is help it along.”

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by Philip Small September 23, 2015 No Comments Post: Solar Resources

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