Environment Forum

Pure water from solar power; will it catch on?

water1 Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) — a water purification system driven by solar power — as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.

That’s the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.

The system, an interesting-sounding technology in a world where more than a billion people lack access to fresh water, could also have extra uses from disaster relief to construction sites or to helping armies stay healthy in remote regions.

Chief Executive Yves Ducommun (below right) says that the machines, housed in the two containers, can pump 100,000 litres of drinking water per day for 20 years at a price of less than $0.03 per litre, including running costs. The system costs between $800,000 and $1.2 million up front, depending on factors such as how many solar panels are needed to drive the purification, which filters out dirt and toxins, or salt from seawater, through a membrane.Yves_Ducommun_CEO_SwissINSO_Lausanne_23 Nov 2010

That is a lot of money for a village in sub-Saharan Africa – but water is often a huge cost over 20 years and governments or aid agencies might be interested: the makers reckon it supplies enough water for about 5,000 people. Freeing people from walking miles to collect water allows them to do other things, like work or study.

Flood drowns Taipei in cinematic wake-up call

American sci-fi blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow warned global audiences about climate change as it showed New York smothered by ice as temperatures plunged worldwide.  But the 2004 movie evidently made little impact on growth-crazy Asia, which has gone ahead spewing pollutants without imagining risks that they might disrupt the climate.

This year a group of filmmakers in newly modernised, consumption-happy Taiwan is going to the densely populated western Pacific island’s public with an hour-long alarmist movie showing the world’s second-tallest building Taipei 101 as an island in a flood that has drowned the capital after a reservoir collapses in a freak super-strength typhoon.

The free film with an obvious mission titled “Plus or Minus 2 Degrees Celsius” began showing in late February, reaching at least 11,000 people so far and with dates to screen for more audiences later in the year.

Can the Internet save the environment?

Could a constant search of the Internet help protect the environment by picking up early hints about pollution or signs of climate change such as desertification, droughts or heatwaves?

A study issued on Thursday hints that it could.

A scuba diver in the South China Sea off Malaysia (above, picture by David Loh of Reuters News) might write a blog if corals looked damaged by ‘bleaching’ – algae that give reefs their colours can start to die off because of higher sea temperatures. It might just turn out that divers far away in Australia, the Caribbean or elsewhere were starting to notice the same thing — perhaps setting off alarm bells about global warming.

“The Internet has the possibility to link up anecdotes to see if there’s a pattern,” said Tim Daw of the University of East Anglia who was among the authors. All that would be needed is an automated trawl of the Internet to pick up the information.