School of Chemistry & Physics

Mrs Esther Nnaeme designs a low-cost and innovative solar distiller.

Pioneering Sustainable Solutions for Clean Water

In a world where access to clean and safe drinking water remains a pressing global concern, individuals like Mrs Esther Nnaeme shine as beacons of hope.

Nnaeme, a dedicated master’s degree student in the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) implements sustainable water purification methods. She is among 45 scholars from the SCP who made submissions to present at the 2023 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS), hosted by the UKZN College of Agriculture, Engineering, and Science, taking place at Coastlands Hotel in Durban on 2 and 3 November. The symposium’s central theme is Water for Sustainability into the 21st Century and aligns perfectly with Nnaeme’s research.

Her research is based on the design of a low-cost and new improved solar distiller which is made up of a wooden basin and an inclined glass cover. This innovative system has the potential to have an impact on water purification. Inside the basin, saline or brackish water is combined with photothermal materials, including recycled materials serving as insulation, an evaporation structure, and a solar absorber.

Nnaeme’s work represents a significant advancement in the field of solar interfacial evaporation, a cutting-edge method of desalination. The primary objective of her research is to transform seawater and brackish water into clean, potable freshwater, providing a lifeline for communities struggling with water scarcity and contamination.

Her research process is as meticulous as it is innovative. She employs a comprehensive approach, starting with collecting freshwater produced by her solar distillation system. This water is subjected to several tests, including pH, conductivity, total dissolved solids, salinity, and water hardness measurements. Additionally, heavy metal analysis is conducted to compare metal concentrations before and after desalination. Nnaeme adheres to the South African National Standard (SANS) 241reference standard for freshwater characterisation and analysis, ensuring that her results are accurate and reliable.

Her research is particularly timely. She pointed out a statistic from the Sustainable Development Goals report of 2023. Despite considerable progress in providing safe water access, 2.2 billion people still lack safely managed drinking water services. Her work represents a crucial step toward alleviating this global crisis. Nnaeme’s dedication to pioneering sustainable solutions for clean water is nothing short of inspiring. As she continues her journey, her research has the potential to bring about a brighter, healthier future for countless communities around the world.

Words: Siphesihle Owen Shezi

Photographs: Supplied