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MIE Capstone Team Builds Solar Desali­na­tion System

May 21, 2015

Supervised by MIE Professor Mohammad Taslim, a team of capstone students constructed a solar powered desalination system to help solve the global water shortage.


Source: News @ Northeastern

Five North­eastern Uni­ver­sity student-​​researchers have worked to address the world­wide water crisis, designing a solar-​​powered desali­na­tion system that pro­duces potable ocean water.

They cre­ated the device for their senior cap­stone project, which was super­vised by mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering pro­fessor Mohammad Taslim. Team mem­bers com­prised Eric Anderson, Jon Moll, Dave Rapp, Murphy Rut­ledge, and Ryan Wasserman, all E’15.

In their project report, the stu­dents pointed to the urgent need to solve the global water shortage: Some 750 mil­lion people lack access to clean water, according to water​.org, and approx­i­mately 840,000 people die each year from a water related dis­ease. Indeed, the water crisis rep­re­sents the greatest risk facing the world today.

We wanted to work on this project pre­cisely because of the world’s water problem,” said Wasserman, who recently grad­u­ated with his Bach­elor of Sci­ence in Mechan­ical Engi­neering. “Devel­oping nations like Haiti need a cost-​​effective method for obtaining usable water without power input.”

The team’s desali­na­tion system con­sists of a par­a­bolic mirror, a copper heating pipe, and two tanks—a storage tank and a con­denser tanked filled with cold water. Here’s how it works: A user pours a small jug of salt water into the pipe. The mirror reflects sun­light onto the pipe, causing the water to evap­o­rate. This process cre­ates water vapor, which in turn flows through a con­denser coil located inside the con­denser tank. The resulting potable water drips from the bottom of the con­denser tank into the storage tank, leaving the salt behind in the pipe.

In tests, the system pro­duced one gallon of potable water per day. While com­pa­rable prod­ucts on the market pro­duce a frac­tion of this quan­tity, Wasserman plans to fine-​​tune the pro­to­type before con­sid­ering its marketability.

The prototype’s design, he noted, was shaped by his co-​​op expe­ri­ence with Instron, the maker of materials-​​testing equip­ment, and QinetiQ North America, the defense tech­nology com­pany. “Both these co-​​op jobs were influ­en­tial,” Wasserman said, adding that he recently landed a full-​​time job with QinetiQ. “I took in a lot of gen­eral knowl­edge that I was able to apply to the assembly of the system.”

Taslim under­scored Wasserman’s sen­ti­ments, saying that cap­stone rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of five years of hard work in class and on co-​​op. “During their senior year, stu­dents put all their engi­neering knowl­edge to work by going through the entire design process from A to Z to bring an idea to reality in a fairly short time,” he said. “This is a real-​​life expe­ri­ence for them so they can join the engi­neering world prepared.”