Nine solar-powered water purification units have been deployed in Bangladesh

Solar-powered water purification plants trialled in Bangladesh

Solar-powered water purification plants may help solve arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh.

The plants, developed by engineers from Lund University in Sweden, use UV-LED technology to purify water. Equipped with intelligent software and a Wi-Fi connection, the 12V units are so efficient they can be powered by a single photovoltaic panel.

“750 million people lack access to clean water across the globe,” said Kenneth M Persson, professor of water resources engineering at Lund University and one of the inventors of the system. “Providing safe drinking water is one of the biggest challenges and one of the most important goals for humanity.”

Nine units are currently being installed in Bangladesh as part of a pilot project that hopes to provide access to safe drinkable water to inhabitants of the impoverished south Asian state, which struggles with arsenic contamination of water resources.

The portable purification units, so-called Micro Production Centres (MPC), are managed by local suppliers and help create jobs for young, unemployed people who run the small facilities and sell clean water in exchange for a small fee.

Smart software constantly monitors the units and sends alerts in the form of text messages to the operator if anything goes wrong. Due to its low energy requirements, the unit’s solar panel generates enough power to charge a small battery that can power the unit overnight, allowing 24-hour operation without access to the grid.

“Thanks to these portable units, communities can now purchase inexpensive, clean water,” Persson said. “At the same time a lot of them can make a small profit by running the plants themselves.”

The pilot project has been funded by the Yunus Centre, established by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work on micro-loans and promoting the social business concept, which aims to provide access to technologies and services to solve major social and societal problems.

“The installations are hopefully only the first step to set up similar structures in several other countries that lack access to clean water”, Persson said.

Persson has developed the technology with his colleague Ola Hansson. The pair founded an environmental company Watershed in 2013 that patented and is now manufacturing the units.

The firm has recently signed a contract with the United Nations to place a further 500 portable units in Bangladesh

Problems with arsenic contamination of water resources are common in Bangladesh due to the high arsenic content in local rocks. The problem is further exacerbated by mining and industrial activities in many areas.

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