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The University of Southampton

Research project: Integrated solar thermal system for desalination / water purification and power generation

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The project aims at the development of a stand-alone system using a solar thermal collector combined with a condensing engine to produce purified water and power from one process.

The collaborative project with the University of Southampton and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University comprises the development and demonstration of an integrated solar thermal system for combined desalination / water purification and electricity generation. Such a system would be of significant benefit to impoverished and rural communities throughout Southern Africa.

The system will combine the condensing engine developed at Southampton with solar thermal collectors, a field of speciality of Stellenbosch University’s Solar Thermal Energy Research Group (STERG), to form a small-scale, cost-effective, decentralized system to produce electricity and biologically clean and safe water from contaminated, brackish or salty water.

The condensing engine is a steam engine that utilises the vacuum created during the condensation of steam at 100 °C to generate power. The condensate – which is free of contaminants – will be collected for human consumption. Coupled with a solar thermal collector to produce steam at high efficiency (~60%), the system has the potential for an elegant solution to the shortage of reliable energy and clean water supply in many poor and rural communities in Southern Africa.

The project involves the development, manufacture and testing of a demonstration system with a ~1 kW solar thermal collector and a 100W engine. The demonstrator will be used to validate the overall concept and generate performance data that will be used as a basis for further development.

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