AUSTIN (KXAN) — There are water scarcity concerns worldwide, but there’s plenty of salt water in the world’s oceans. However, you can’t drink salt water, so scientists at MIT’s Device Research Laboratory are attempting to create desalination technology. The hope is that the technology will turn salt water to fresh water and open up doors to more water access to people and places where it’s hard to come by.

KXAN Meteorologist Nick Bannin spoke with Yang Zhong, a Graduate Student at MIT’s Device Research Laboratory, about how they’re working to make this happen.

Nick Bannin, KXAN Meteorologist: So you and your colleagues have developed a device capable of producing freshwater from saltwater, powered by the sun? What makes this device special?

Yang Zhong, Graduate Student at MIT’s Device Research Laboratory: Certainly, there are quite a few research and also products available on the market. This device is also powered by sunlight, but I think for those devices, a key challenge is that they’re not productive enough, or they’re usually not as resistant, resistant to the salt, or the most important thing… they really come with a significant price tag. But our device, it’s time for the first time adjust all the three problems together at the same time.

Bannin: Now, one of your colleagues had said that this could be done more cheaply than tap water. How revolutionary could that be?

Zhong: Yeah, I think this is really important, and also very important message we want to deliver. I think the positive impact can be threefold. First of all, I think it’s economic. So right now we are able to produce drinking water using the device with a cost lower than tap water, while the quality of the water produced is also better than tap water, which means that we can be even better than a lot of municipal supplies in providing this water to a lot of people.

Bannin: Now, why is desalination such an important field to be studied and invested in?

Zhong: Yeah, I think desalination now has really huge, pressing need, because right now. Nowadays, there are 2 billion people suffering from water scarcity, which means that almost 1/3 of the population now [are] facing this challenge. So with addition of our device, we think we can use solar energy, and to provide this affordable and a steady drinking water source, which can be a really good way to eliminate this water scarcity and adjust this water shortage problem.