Current methods of transforming salty sea water into drinkable water are land- and energy-intensive and are often powered by non-renewable sources of energy. However, new research and innovative projects are paving the way for smaller and more sustainable methods of desalination that could be based locally right in the communities that would most need them.
The "Solar Cucumber" by UK-based conceptual designer Phil Pauley does just this: it's a conceptual floating desalination unit that is intended to use the power of the sun to turn sea water into potable water -- a good fit for disaster relief situations or coastal communities suffering from water shortages.
Pauley writes on Inhabitat about how these sun-powered devices work, and how they can be integrated into a local ecosystem while providing drinking water:
The mini bus unit uses multiple-effect humidification to evaporate and condense seawater while removing its salt content. Multiple-effect humidification replicates the normal environmental water cycle. In the case of the Solar Cucumber, it uses solar power and reverse osmosis to separate water from other substances, including salt. The system uses advanced non-stick-style materials to reduce maintenance and create an effectively self-cleaning system that produces fresh water and sea salt at source while reducing the need for costly and impractical transportation of water. In permanent off-shore installations, the Solar Cucumber’s anchor system would form part of an artificial reef encouraging the growth of local marine habitats and biodiversity.
It reminds us of low-tech solar stills that are used in open sea situations to provide drinking water. No estimates yet as to how much salt water can be desalinated, but like similar projects which prioritize flexibility and portability over expensive and hard-to-maintain desalination infrastructure (such as this shipping container desal unit), these mobile units like these could change the way water scarcity is locally addressed in the future.