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SPIE Professional July 2011

Solar power makes drinking water safe

SPIE Photonics for a Better World

A European Union research consortium is working on a compact and low-cost photocatalytic water treatment system to provide clean water to the more than one billion people in the world who have no access to clean water.

The system harnesses photons from the sun to break down pollutants in water. It is funded by an EU Seventh Framework Program grant and includes groups from Israel, Denmark, the UK, France, Italy, South Africa, and Jordan.

The system, which will be designed to resemble a roof-top solar panel, will be placed on dwellings near ponds and streams with poor water quality. It will not require any consumables — electricity or chemicals — to run, and is therefore ideal for isolated or poorer communities in developing countries.

Approximately 1.2 billion people in the world have no access to clean water, resulting in the deaths of 1.5 million young children every year from water-borne diseases, according to UNICEF. The lack of clean water is due, in great part, to rising pollution, growing populations, and lack of water-treatment infrastructure in developing countries.

"There are different ways to bring about chemical reactions," explains Reuven Boxman, who heads the Tel-Aviv University (TAU) team in Israel working on the project.

"You often have to add an energy source, such as electricity or heat in the form of a flame," he says. "What we're doing here is using energy from the sun to decompose organic pollutants."

 TAU's Dror Avisar, Hadas Mamane, Reuven Boxman
From left, TAU's Dror Avisar, Hadas Mamane, and Reuven Boxman.

The TAU team includes Dror Avisar, Hadas Mamane, and Boxman.

Planned water research center

Avisar and Mamane are also involved in a planned water research center at TAU. The center's main goal will be to improve water reclamation methods.

"Harmful pesticides and chemicals remain in water reclaimed by wastewater plants," Mamane says, "and we're developing innovative technologies for these plants aimed at enhancing water quality."

The center will also provide a framework for graduate students researching water chemistry.

Photonics for a Better World

Do you have a story to tell about the work that you or colleagues do to make the world a better place? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

Articles in the SPIE Photonics for a Better World series and in our blog highlight optics and photonics technologies that bring tangible gains to humanity.

Read more articles in the SPIE Professional series at spie.org/betterworld.

Join the blog discussion about the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world at PhotonicsforaBetterWorld.org.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201107.03

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