Global Waters Radio: Natasha Wright on Solar-Powered Desalination in India

“The prospects for this technology in India are huge. There is approximately 60 percent of the land area in India that has brackish groundwater underneath it.”

Photo Credit: Tata Center for Technology and Design, MIT

Natasha Wright is a researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Global Engineering and Research Lab. In 2015, her team — a collaborative effort between MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems —won first place in the Desal Prize competition, an initiative of the Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development which is funded by USAID alongside Sweden (through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the South African Department of Science and Technology. In this interview with Global Waters Radio, Wright shares insights about her team’s prize-winning electrodiaylsis reversal (EDR) technology, which uses solar power to produce desalinated water for small-scale farmers and communities disconnected from irrigation and water-supply networks.

“With EDR, you can achieve a recovery ratio of over 90 percent — that means if I put one gallon of water in, less than 10 percent of that gallon is wasted. This is much less waste than the small-scale systems that are currently installed in India. The existing systems use a technology called reverse osmosis, and in the way that they are currently applied, they waste closer to 50 to 70 percent of input water.”

Wright shares lessons learned from the team’s first EDR field trial, held in India earlier this year, and explains to Global Waters Radio why the technology’s relatively low energy requirements — roughly 50 percent less than reverse osmosis — could make EDR an appealing fit for water-scarce off-grid communities in sun-rich areas of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. To listen to the full podcast, please click below.

To view or download this Global Waters Radio transcript, please click here.

For more information on the research or organizations discussed in this Global Waters Radio podcast:


Global Waters Radio is a podcast series produced by the Water Team at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The series offers listeners insights from USAID officials, development partners, thought leaders and experts from across the water sector as they discuss current USAID water programming and cutting-edge research from around the world. Have a topic you would like to see covered in a future Global Waters Radio podcast? Please contact us at waterteam@usaid.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USAIDWater.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated USAID Water Team’s story.