A research team from the University of California in Los Angeles has announced preliminary feasibility testing for a new mobile pilot system that would make reverse osmosis significantly cheaper. The system, called M3, would be able to determine whether fresh water could be extracted effectively from any water source. This could help make the process of desalination much easier and practically cheaper especially within developing nations.
Desalination is a widely used process of purifying seawater or even brackish water to produce potable water that is safer for drinking and consumption of people. The process is massively used in about a hundred countries globally, with nations in the Middle East and other desert areas as the heaviest users. It is also becoming popular in other nations where growing population has depleted available potable water sources, like in Australia, China, Spain, and several states in the US. Desalination is effective, but it is at the same time very costly.
Reverse osmosis is a water filtration technique that is done through applying force so that water could pass though semi-permeable membranes. This way, impurities are filtered out and water is purified. The process is not a fast one, but it could be among the best ways to assure safety and effectiveness of produced potable water. The M3 system is specifically designed and used to significantly lower costs of desalination and reverse osmosis.
In the usual process, a static pilot facility should be constructed within or close to any water source. The plant carries activities to test quality of water and then assess strategies for pretreatment of water. Pretreatment is necessary in removing impurities before such substances pollute and corrupt reverse osmosis membranes. In general, this conventional practice is costly. Cleaning and replacing the membranes means the desalination plant should be entirely shut down, which is counter-productive.
Its developers claim that the portable and flexible nature of M3 means that any nation or government that is into desalination could invest in a system to use it in initially testing every potential water source. This could significantly help save time and money. Researchers are positive that the mobile system would truly be useful especially to many system providers that require similar tests at multiple sites to make sure contamination of reverse osmosis membranes would be effectively prevented.
Such mobile pilot facilities, which could even fit into any standard cargo van, could be helpful in developing nations that are considering using reverse osmosis for water quality testing and production. A standard M3 unit could produce up to 5,000 gallons of purified water out of seawater in a day. It could produce up to 8,000 gallons of safe drinking water out of brackish water. Thus, the mobile water purifying system could be deemed effective and useful even in emergency situations.
Several experts are also hoping M3 could be able to reverse the current stand or Water Aid against reverse osmosis. The safe water advocacy organization is not usually recommending the use of reverse osmosis technologies for water treatment because such systems are usually very costly and tedious.
To many, M3 could be good news as it has the potential to make purified water from reverse osmosis more affordable and available especially across third world or developing countries, where people could not usually afford paying for safer potable water.