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World's First Wave-Powered Buoy Turns Seawater Into Drinking Water

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World's First Wave-Powered Buoy Turns Seawater Into Drinking Water

North Carolina-based startup EcoH2O Innovations has created the first-ever desalination buoy that only uses the power of waves to turn seawater into drinking water.


Engineers Justin Sonnett and Chris Matthews claim that a single Swell Actuated Reverse Osmosis System (SAROS) machine can clean 3,500 gallons of seawater a day. A grouping of 10-20 units can provide up to 50,000 gallons per site.

According to CityLab, the SAROS "draws in sea water, pumps it at high pressure through a reverse-osmosis membrane, and emits clean, drinkable water, which it stores in a tank until it's ready to be run back to shore."

Desalination plants are a potential solution for water scarcity but they have several problems—they require a large swath of land and city infrastructure, have a big brine discharge problem and also require fossil fuels to operate. The portable SAROS, however, can fit in the back of a truck only needs waves to run, making it relatively cost-effective and energy independent.

"SAROS is different because, by using it, we can cut the cost currently associated with producing fresh water in half," Matthews, SAROS director of research and development, told New Atlas.

The system was designed for the 230 million people living on island and coastal communities that lack access to potable water.

"Typical desalination processes can be taxing on the environment, especially coastal communities," the team said. "Unlike traditional methods that require a huge amount of power, typically generated by burning fuel oil, SAROS uses clean, renewable wave energy and produces zero emissions and minimal salt brine concentration."

Besides providing a constant source of clean water, the SAROS can help island nations curb their use of dirty energy. Many of these areas are bearing the brunt of climate change, from natural disasters to sea level rise.

"We're completely removing the dependency on electricity and fossil fuels, and creating one of the first environmentally conscious desalination systems that will allow us to bring affordable fresh water to coastal areas across the globe," the team added.

EcoH2O said the SAROS can one day be used to tackle other problems besides water scarcity.

"The innovative, wave-powered technology used in SAROS could also be configured to do things like generate electricity, autonomously pump water to clean up oil spills or even filter plastic from our ocean," the team said. "The amount of potential good that SAROS can bring is as exciting as it is endless."

Sonnett and Matthews came up with SAROS as their senior design project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2014. After graduating, they've picked up multiple awards for their concept, including the prestigious Thomas Edison Award in 2014 for dedication to sustainability.

The SAROS team has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise the $25,000 they need to take this project above water. The cost per unit is expected to retail around $23,000.

Watch here to learn more:

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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