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Firm tackles water-purification challenge

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Fangyu Cao of Advanced Cooling Technologies in Lancaster is principal engineer on a project aiming to develop a low-cost method of filtering unusable water into fresh water.
Fangyu Cao of Advanced Cooling Technologies in Lancaster is principal engineer on a project aiming to develop a low-cost method of filtering unusable water into fresh water. - (Photo / )

Advanced Cooling Technologies has been awarded a federal grant of $1.5 million to develop an inexpensive, solar-powered system for converting salt water to fresh, potable water.

The system would address several drawbacks of existing desalination systems, which can be costly and hard to move.

Electricity consumes up to half of the operating expenses for today’s desalination operations and plants typically need to be connected to the power grid. The use of solar power and low-cost components can lead to smaller, more portable systems and expand access to desalination technologies.

“This project really resonated with us,” said Amanda Hershey, a marketing specialist at Advanced Cooling, which is based in Lancaster. “The challenge is to take otherwise unusable salt water and filter it into fresh water, without an electric pump. It solves a real problem — access to fresh water is one of the paramount issues facing many countries today.”

Worldwide, about 844 million people lack access to safe water, according to the advocacy group Water.org. The number rises when floods and storms hit, even in developed countries.

The grant for Advanced Cooling’s work comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Technologies Office, which is funding 14 solar desalination projects nationwide.

Founded in 2003, Advanced Cooling is collaborating with partners at the University of Maryland. The project engineer is Fangyu Cao of Advanced Cooling.

“The whole idea of this project is to provide fresh water efficiently and at a low cost,” Cao said, noting that the project dovetails with Advanced Cooling’s expertise.

The company’s contribution to the project is something called a loop thermosyphon, a specialized method of heat exchange that works without the need for a mechanical pump. The method can be used in keeping electronic equipment cool, for example, by carrying heat away.

The university is developing nanofluids that will be used to capture and transfer solar energy through Advanced Cooling’s thermosyphon system.

The end goal is a passive system – one that works on its own with few moving parts – that is low cost and requires minimal maintenance.

The company and the university are currently working on a prototype for completion by 2021, Cao said.

If the technology works, the partners will focus on building a pilot system for installation at an existing desalination plant.

Hershey said that Advanced Cooling’s research and development team monitors requests for proposals and determines which may be the best fit for its capabilities.

“The reasons why we go after projects like this is that we work a lot on passive solutions,” she said. “The most reliable solutions are those that use something that cannot break.”

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