If access to safe water was already difficult in the Puerto Rican municipality of Loíza before Hurricane Irma first, then María, which devastated Puerto Rico, the situation then made it even more difficult. However, 600 inhabitants of the town have more than 3,200 liters of water purified per day thanks to a system powered by the sun, installed in the area with the support of the Roddenberry Foundation – promoted by Rod Roddenberry, son of the creator of Star Trek – and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Independent of the electrical network and without battery. These are the two key points of this solution named WARP, from Water aid and renewable energy system (aid system for water and renewable energies). It was installed in just five days by this northwestern Puerto Rico coastal municipality, members of MIT and Infinitum Humanitarian Systems (IHS) who, upon arriving in Loíza, found a town in which many residents had been without electricity for 45 days and drinking, “very probably”, contaminated water, depending on MIT.
The mechanism is a municipal contaminated water purification system that works only with the energy of the sun to provide more than 3200 liters of water per day for consumption by the local population. In addition, barrels for collecting rainwater are an alternative source in the event of failure of other resources.
Although the installation was quick and, since October 25, “The taps are open” in Loíza, making this possible was not so easy. For this, it was necessary to create a new version of the system that the Roddenberry Foundation has installed since 2013 in communities around the world affected by disasters such as those encountered by Puerto Rico.
Thus, compared to the generator that powered the pumps and purification equipment in the original equipment, it has now switched to a purely solar mechanism. For that, a flexible solar mat composed of CIGS cells has been incorporated (copper, indium, gallium and selenium). This stands out for its extreme durability, as well as water resistance and performance.
From a technical point of view, the experts also had to throw away the batteries. “Off-grid solar systems have traditionally been designed for use with batteries. But these require maintenance, are heavy and expensive, in addition to not working well at high temperatures “Erik Limpaecher, from Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, lists the reasons.
For him, the version launched in Puerto Rico compensates for the lack of batteries with the inverter, which can function as an emergency power supplier. This allowed WARP to be up and running, to operate off the grid and without batteries. “With the push of a switch, the function is activated and delivers up to 1500 watts of power when the sun is not shining”, they explain from MIT.
Another aspect that needed to be addressed was where to install this solar water purifier. For this, not only the situation in which Loíza found himself was key. The offer of a local youth organization to provide the surface on which to perform the installation, as well as the staff to install and maintain the system was also decisive. “We had to train the local population to use the system, because we are leaving, but it remains”explains Alex Hatoum, director of IHS.
Now, back in the United States, the gaze of these entities continues to shift to Puerto Rico. So during the foundation of the son of the creator of Star Treck seeks funds to install another team in Las Margaritas, in San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico; The members of this team are already considering their next goal: to develop a system that guarantees the supply of purified water to 4,000 people per day.