Chile inaugurates first solar powered desalination plant

A project spearheaded by non-profit organization Fundación Chile will aid agriculture in the arid Lluta valley in northern Chile through eco-friendly means.

For generations, farmers have struggled to suitably irrigate crops in dry regions of Arica and Parinacota. The issues is twofold: access to water is low, and often that water is too brackish for agricultural purposes.

A project developed by Fundación Chile’s Climate Change Fund and backed by Chile’s national Innovation Fund for Competitiveness (FIC) has made innovative inroads to solving this problem.

The new desalination plant, now operational at the Padre Francisco Napolitano agriculture school in the Lluta valley, uses membrane separation technology to remove salt from water, all the while being powered by clean, photovoltaic solar panels that utilize Chile’s incredible renewable energy potential.

The plant is simple in its construction and operation, and costs US$ 210,000 (CLP 100 million) to build.

“This pilot plant is an example of innovation that generates other ventures and it will be replicated in other areas of the Lluta valley,” Arica and Parinacota Mayor José Durana said at the plant’s inauguration last month.

The plant’s operations will be closely monitored, and a market study and business model will be drawn up with a view to commercialize the technology for use elsewhere in northern Chile.

“The Fundación is in the evaluation phase of the project and it is clear that the water generated from the plant decreases in salinity and boron content,” project manager of Fundación Chile Carolina Cuevas Gutierrez said. “This will enable an increase in quality and diversity of crops in the region.”

“The benefit lies not only in the new water technology, but also the low energy consumption,” she continued. “As we know, energy represents the biggest cost in any technology. Using today’s solar technology, we can produce excellent quality water, and the next step is to apply this to further agricultural production.”

Founded in 1976, Fundación Chile’s partners are the Chilean government and BHP Billiton’s Minera Escondida. Labeling itself a “do tank,” the non-profit organisation’s aim is to turn Chile into a center for innovation and entrepreneurship.