Here is how we are revolutionizing water purification

graphic of people from different nationalities wearing facemasks.

Qiaoqiang Gan is leading a team to develop a sun-powered water purifier that could provide drinking water in regions where water is scarce, such as disaster zones or remote areas where infrastructure is sparse.

Portable solar sill outside.

The system helps cool its surroundings by absorbing heat from the air inside the box and transmitting that energy through the Earth’s atmosphere into outer space. Credit: University at Buffalo.

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory is funding the team with $1.4 million to develop the portable device — a 'solar still' that generates clean water using the power of the sun.

Gan’s research group has reported innovations in water vaporization and radiative cooling, and the aim is to apply these advances to increase the rate at which a solar still can produce drinkable water. The model of solar still the team is developing would float on a lake or another body of water.

The new federal funding will support further studies in Gan’s lab, with some work subcontracted to Sunny Clean Water, a startup launched by Gan and his colleagues. Research efforts will include testing promising materials and solar still designs, including scalable systems that work in cold environments.

Co-founders of Sunny Clean Water include Gan; Zongmin Bei, senior research support specialist and adjunct instructor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and Zongfu Yu, Jack St. Clair Kilby Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gan’s team and Sunny Clean Water have previously received support from Launch NY, Columbia Technology Ventures and NEXUS-NY, which are supported by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority); the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program; the UB Technology Transfer team; and the NSF I-Corps Site Program, coordinated by UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships office.

Qiaoqiang Gan.
Lead Researcher:

Qiaoqiang Gan, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences