US and Indian researchers bag first prize in desalination contest

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and India’s Jain Irrigations has won first prize in a US government contest to develop a low-cost way to desalinate water in developing countries.

A system developed by Amos Winter, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and doctoral student Natasha Wright prevailed over four rival offerings in the contest, which was sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bureau of Reclamation and held at a research facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, earlier this month.

The MIT team will receive a US$ 160,000 reward for developing the system.

The MIT/JAIN system was based on the electro-dialysis-reversal principle, which exploits the electrical charge present in dissolved salt particles to pull them with an opposite charge. The power for the system comes courtesy of batteries charged from solar panels.

A University of Texas at El Paso team won a second place prize of $40,000. A group of researchers from Nepal, Jordan, Israel, Brazil, and the US received an honourable mention. The three teams will be eligible to share in an additional US$ 400,000 in grants to set up pilot projects to test their systems under real-world conditions.

The MIT-JIS system will now be put to test outdoors where farmers will be using the system daily.