Clarkson’s research team develops electrochemical device powered by sunlight for water desalination

The device would provide a greener alternative to extract fresh water from salt water

An article published by Clarkson chemical engineering graduate student Gowri Mohandass was highlighted on the blanket from the December issue of the American Chemical Society Environmental sciences and technologies: engineering newspaper. The work on display uses an electrochemical cell powered by sunlight to separate salt from water. Mohandass, Karel Czanderna and Dan Shirkey Ignite Fellow at Clarkson University, is a researcher in the laboratories of Professors Taeyoung Kim and Sitaraman Krishnan, co-authors of the article. The team developed a redox flow system for the continuous production of fresh water using a relatively inexpensive solar cell built using titanium dioxide and carbon electrodes.

Electrochemical desalination of water involves the migration of sodium ions from the salt to the negative electrode and chloride ions to the positive electrode under an applied voltage. Rather than using a separate solar panel comprising, for example, silicon solar cells, to generate the required voltage, Clarkson researchers built an integrated device in which one of the two electrodes of the electrochemical cell is photovoltaic. Their process did not use volatile organic solvents such as acetonitrile, deemed necessary in previous studies (but toxic). The design of the cell was such that the voltage and current generated by sunlight were sufficient to produce potable water at relatively high flow rates. In addition, their device should be cheaper to install than systems based on silicon solar cells.

About two-thirds of the planet live under severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. Desalination is a practical solution to extracting fresh water from salt water. Existing thermal desalination techniques require high capital expenditure and depend on energy sources powered by fossil fuels. Electrochemical light desalination may be a greener alternative.

The article is available on https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsestengg.1c00266.

The Clarkson Ignite Research Fellowship Program aims to conduct innovative research that has the potential to have an impact on society on a national level and international levels. The program recruits and supports highly talented doctoral students students to participate in the pursuit of these innovative research projects.

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