By Joby Warrick of the Washington Post
The American engineers who traveled to rural India two years ago believed they were going to help poor villagers get rid of microbes in their drinking water. But soon after their arrival, they began hearing about a different problem: salt.
“People kept talking about the salt in the water,” recalled Natasha Wright, a doctoral candidate who was part of the team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that made the journey in 2013. “The groundwater beneath the villages was brackish.”
Those complaints inspired new technology that could some day supply water to thirsty villages and drought-stricken farms in other parts of the world. The MIT team developed a solar-powered water desalination system that uses the sun’s energy to turn brackish liquid into contaminant-free water safe for drinking and for crops.
The system, when fully operational, can supply the basic water needs of a village of between 2,000 and 5,000 people, MIT officials said. Although the prototype was more expensive, Wright said the team is hopes to lower the costs of a village-sized unit to about $11,000.