Nov 05, 2020

Water-Energy Nanogrid Assists Low-Income Communities

Researchers at Texas A&M developed a purification system to decontaminate water.

water quality

Researchers at Texas A&M University have come up with a green solution that can help underprivileged communities with their water and electricity needs.

The researchers’ standalone water-energy nanogrid consists of a purification system which uses solar energy to decontaminate water. The setup is mathematically tuned to use solar energy optimally so that the water filtration is unhindered by the fluctuations of solar energy during the course of the day, according to the team, reported Texas A&M Today.

“To serve areas that are remote and isolated, the infrastructural cost of laying down new water pipes or setting up an electricity grid is enormous and can take a very long time,” said Le Xie, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “To overcome these hurdles, we presented a cost-effective solution that uses solar energy to both purify water and generate electricity for basic household use.”

The colonias represent one of the many rural, low-income communities along the Texas-Mexico border where basic resources are not easily available.

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“Boiling water is one of the most expensive ways of decontamination because it takes a lot of energy to heat water,” said Shankar Chellam, professor in the Zachry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, reported Texas A&M Today. “Also, although boiling gets rid of biological contaminants, it does not remove many chemical contaminants. We needed a solution that could address both these problems at the same time.”

The researchers looked for a solution that would help with both the power and water requirements of the colonia residents, according to the team.

To cut the dependence on centralized sources of power and water, Xie, Chellam and their team conceptualized an energy-water nanogrid. Then, they developed a cost-minimization mathematical scheme that minimized the total expenditure for the standalone setup by selecting the type of filter, the number and size of solar panels and the size of the solar battery.

The model revealed that if nanofiltration was used, harvesting solar energy during peak availability was effective to run pumps and purify water. The researchers found that the nanofiltration system's overall merit is that it can successfully desalinate and remove chemicals that are present in local groundwater. 

“We have for the first time used a very rigorous mathematical approach to interlink water purification and energy provision,” Chellam said. “This lays out a quantitative framework that can be used in not just the colonias but in any scenario based on local conditions.”

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