From Wave Power to Clean Water: SAROS Is a Wave-Powered Desalination System

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©. SAROS Desalination

This system could produce 3,500 gallons of clean water per day, at half the cost of current desalination methods, using just the motion of the waves to power the Reverse Osmosis process.

"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink." Unfortunately, that phrase is all too true at many places around the globe with ocean access but little to no freshwater resources, and considering how densely populated many coastal areas are, desalinating the sea water right where it will be used seems like the most obvious solution. However, desalination plants are not only costly, but they also require vast amounts of electricity, most often supplied from burning fossil fuels, which makes them a viable option only in places where they can be funded and powered, not necessarily where they are most needed.

Areas with easy ocean access but extremely limited freshwater resources may someday be getting their clean water right from the sea, without the need for any external energy inputs to desalinate it, thanks to the team at SAROS Desalination.

What began in 2013 as a senior design project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which centered around proving the viability of using just wave energy to pressurize water for the Reverse Osmosis process has now advanced from a proof of concept device to a working prototype, which has been field-tested and is now being optimized based on data from those tests. Along the way, the efforts of Chris Matthews and Justin Sonnet, co-founders of SAROS, have garnered accolades ranging from the Thomas Edison Award to a regional top startup award, and the team is now looking to further its goal of providing inexpensive clean water to developing coastal regions with just renewable energy.

The floating SAROS device (which is an acronym for Swell Actuated Reverse Osmosis System) isn't a wave energy device in the conventional sense - it doesn't generate electricity - but rather uses the energy of ocean waves to pressurize sea water and run it through a Reverse Osmosis process, and to then pump the fresh water to shore via a hose system. The device is said to be currently capable of producing about 500 gallons per day, and can produce up to 3,500 gallons of desalinated water per day at a slightly larger size, and to do so at a cost of about half of current desalination processes. Although there is no plan to massively scale up the size of individual units, groups of 10 or 20 SAROS devices could be deployed together to produce more water in a given area. According to SAROS, a single unit could produce enough water for the daily requirements of more than 300 people in a "developing area," or up to 1750 people per day in an emergency situation.

"Engineers Chris Matthews and Justin Sonnett have kept the design of SAROS simple. By using common components, they’re able to place them above water and on shore to avoid complicated installation and maintenance. By concentrating only on fresh water production and not electricity production, SAROS has much higher efficiency. By eliminating energy-related emissions, SAROS’ new design and adaptability provide a unique opportunity to supply clean water, expand the water supply, preserve ecological and environmental needs of communities and address economic issues of energy and water pricing." - SAROS

The SAROS team is currently seeking crowdfunding, with an extremely modest goal of $25,000, to help underwrite the next phase of testing and optimizing its current prototype, as well as run pilot programs in Haiti and Puerto Rico.