Clean water is a basic human right. But after hurricane Maria, 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s water quality infrastructure was destroyed. Months after hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas failed an EPA water quality test. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.
Clean water infrastructure is incredibly expensive, which is partially why these problems persist. But since climate change makes extreme weather events more likely than ever, it’s crucial to human survival that we figure out how to filter water at a low cost.
Researchers from the University of Buffalo just took a big step in the right direction by creating a low-cost water purifying system that’s nearly 100 percent efficient. The design is simple: you take a glass with dirty water, and drape carbon paper in a tent-like shape above it. Then, just let the sun do the rest.
Since the paper is black, it absorbs almost all natural light, allowing it to heat up quickly. The hotter the paper, the more quickly the water in the glass evaporates and becomes water vapor. But this water vapor isn’t lost to the air: the paper captures it.
In the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes, rebuilding expensive water filtration systems can take time, leaving people to either deal with a contaminated water supply or buy expensive bottled water. Citizens should be able to rely on their governments to provide this basic utility, but when access is affected widespread political corruption — like in Flint or New Orleans — low-cost options like a solar powered filtration system could save the lives of world’s most vulnerable.
Still, with agencies such as FEMA refusing to so much as consider climate change in its long-term plans, it’s unclear if governments can or will implement technology like this cheap filtration system on the massive scale that’s needed to save human lives.