Solar Desalination in the Brazilian Northeast

by Breno Liberato in Cranfield, England, United Kingdom

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On 23rd August 2018 we successfully raised £414 with 21 supporters in 28 days

Fight the drought in the Brazilian Northeast throughout solar-driven desalination.

by Breno Liberato in Cranfield, England, United Kingdom

New stretch target

Donate to an NGO focused on fighting the drought impacts in the Brazilian Northeast

My name is Breno Liberato, I am Brazilian, mechanical engineer since 2011 (UFPE-Brazil) and now, thanks to a British Council Scholarship award, I am conducting an MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering at the Cranfield University (UK).

The MSc thesis I am working on is about developing a framework to select the most suitable solar-powered desalination method to be applied in the Brazilian northeast 

1 - The Problem:

- Very few people know that this region is one of the most populous semiarid regions in the world (over 27 million people), and their residents suffer from very intense drought. On the other hand, this region has a huge solar potential (around 6.5 kWh/m2) and part of it also faces the Atlantic coast, which means an abundance of seawater. The selected area to conduct this study (Municipality of Areia Branca) is marked in a green dot in the below drought map of the Brazilian northeast.

2 - Best way to fight this problem:

The combination of those above-quoted factors makes the perfect scenario to implement a solar-driven desalination system. Therefore, the main aim of this project  is to gather enough data and generate strong arguments to convince the Brazilian society that:

1 - Investing in solar-driven desalination is the best way to fight the drought in areas where the Brazilian semiarid faces the Atlantic coast.

2 - The final selected solar-driven desalination method is proven to be feasible under the perspectives from all main actors, such as (i) local users, (ii) producers and (iii) regulators. 

3 - Methodology:

Develop a framework for Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA), which throughout a mix of field visits and desk-based studies assess the financial, social, environmental, institutional, legal, and technical condition of each solar desalination method in the given context, from the three perspectives: users,  producers, and regulator/ potential investor.

[This methodology is based on the Technology Applicability Framework (TAF)].

3.1 - Surveys: This tool will be used to assess the opinion of 3 important groups of the potential solar desalination system, such as:

3.1.1 - Local Users: We have a collaboration agreement with the University of the State of Rio Grande do Norte (UERN). According to this collaboration, this fieldwork will be conducted by UER's students. This is the main reason why we are conducting this crowdfunding campaign. 

This field survey is planned to cover the 3 most populous beach towns of the above-quoted municipality. To do so we aim to conduct by 4 students as a 3 days field survey (1 for each town). The costs related to this work are:

Transport 1 - The students will need to dislocate from their city to the center of the municipality of Areia Branca (66 miles), and come back after 3 days - £16 for each.

Transport 2 - Each day of work, the students need to move from the city they will be based to a different town(between 20 and 36 miles a day), in order to conduct the survey. -  £4 per student per day

Accommodation - Due to buses timetables, the students will need to sleep 3 nights in the city they will be located - £10 per student per night.

Food and water - We estimate an average of £10 per student per day to cover this type of expenses.

Costs Breakdown 

3.1.2 - Producers: The potential producers identified in this venture is the PV Pure. This is a group which as a result of 8 years of R&D at the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The PV Pure team is able to build Reverse Osmosis desalination systems, powered by photovoltaic panels, optimized to best meet the user's needs at the least cost. These systems are semi-autonomous and can be run for long periods of time under variable conditions without the need for the constant attention of a skilled operator.

3.1.3 - Potential Investor: The  Voltalia is a power producer and service provider in renewable electricity production, which run large-scale wind farms in the municipality of Areia Branca. They have also shown relevant interest in investing on social programs around this region, such as the "Water and Revenue Program" which was certified in the XV ranking bench-marking as holders of 2017`s best social-environmental practices. This group is the most important potential investor in this region and it has shown very keen to collaborate with this study and excited about its outcomes.

4 - Why Assess the users' opinion?

Now you know about this target of this project and the purpose of this campaign, you might be wondering: Why would be important to ask the local people's opinion? They live in a place very damaged by droughts and this system is a water supply solution which is very suitable to this region, due to the abundance of seawater and huge solar power. There is nothing to ask, you might think.

Our research about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) technologies, shows that the involvement of the local users since the method selection phase throughout the implementation and finally to the follow-up is crucial to achieving a successful water supply system in a community level. Therefore important nontrivial questions need to be made to the potential users in order to figure out which is the most suitable technology to be applied in a specific region, such as:

1 - Scale: According to the residents, the community has a bigger need for a system which is able to cover only the drinking water needs or the general usage as well? 

2 - Costs: Based on the price of the 20l bottle of water that the locals can afford, would be possible to cover the maintenance costs of the system without any external investment? 

3 - History: Are there any other desalination system available in this region?  Who is responsible for it?  Is it working properly?

4 - Follow up: Are the Community keen to run this system on their own if they receive appropriate training? 

I  also invite you to watch this insightful TED Talk regarding this topic. On this short video, Ernesto Sirolli explains you much better than I can dare to try, the relevance of the locals regarding projects which targets improvement on their wellbeing. To watch the video, click here.

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