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Original: Spanish

Lydia G. Mrquez-Bravo
Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologa del Agua
Paseo Cuauhnhuac 8532, Jiutepec, Morelos, Mxico

Some low-cost alternatives for water disinfection by solar
energy are analyzed, mainly those feasible in rural
communities. These alternatives were divided into thermal
and photochemical processes and the advantages and
limitations of each method are presented. Results of the
efficiency of the disinfection processes using a flat solar
collector, as well as polyethylene bags and containers and
glass flasks directly exposed to the sun, are presented.
The evaluation of a prototype showed that the process is
useful even on cloudy days since it depends more on the
quantity of total radiation than on direct radiation only.



Disinfection is the process carried out to eliminate or control the microorganisms in

water that could affect its quality, causing among other things, diseases due to
microbial activity. There is a difference between disinfection and sterilization, as the
latter destroys all organisms (Hooper, 1987).
Disinfection implies the exposure of microorganisms to physical or chemical
conditions to destroy them or check their growth. In fact, it deals with populations of
organisms and not individuals, and this has a kinetic effect in terms of mortality, where
the death criterion for a microorganism is the irreversible loss of its capability for
reproduction (Hooper, op. cit.).
Until recently, it was considered that the bacteriological quality of water could be
determined by the count of total and faecal coliforms. However, there is a limited
correlation between the presence of these bacteria and the presence of other
pathogens. In 1986, in the United States of America, the reforms of the Safe Drinking
Water Act (SDWA), set the following additional objectives of disinfection before
distribution of the water (Smith et al., 1991):

To ensure 99.9% (three log) and 99,99% (four log) of inactivation for Giardia
lamblia cysts and enteric viruses, respectively.
To ensure the control of other harmful microorganisms.

Not to add toxic substances to the disinfected water.

To minimize the formation of undesirable disinfection by-products.
To comply with the maximum levels of pollutants for the disinfectants used and
the by-products that could be formed.

The dissemination of alternative methods such as addition of chemical substances,

ozone treatment, or ultraviolet light, boiling and some types of filtration is limited
because of problems linked with reliability, operation, maintenance, costs, resulting
flavor and, particularly in the case of boiling, availability of fuel. One of the simplest
and least expensive methods of providing safe drinking water to rural communities is
the use of solar radiation to inactivate bacteria and other pathogens.
This paper presents some of the applications of solar energy for drinking water
disinfection in rural communities. These applications have been divided into
photothermal, using the infrared radiation of the spectrum, and photochemical, whose
effect is due mainly to ultraviolet radiation. Although several methods of solar
disinfection are described, emphasis is placed on those whose efficiency has been
proven by the Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologa del Agua (IMTA). The method(s)
selected will depend on local conditions.

Thermal disinfection processes

High temperatures have a marked effect on all types of microorganisms. At high

temperatures, vegetative cells die due to protein denaturalization and hydrolysis of
other components. In water, bacteria die between 40 and 100C, while algae,
protozoa, and fungi die between 40 and 60C. Spores require extreme heat
conditions to be destroyed: 120 C in wet heat (steam) for 20 minutes or 170C in dry
heat for 90 minutes (Hooper, 1987).


Boiling is one of the most effective and accessible methods for water disinfection.
However, its use in rural areas is restricted by the growing lack of fuel, mainly
firewood. In 1987, the total firewood consumption in rural areas of Mexico amounted
to 15.69 million tons and it was used mainly for food preparation, water heating being
relegated to second priority (SEMIP, 1988). From the environmental standpoint, more
severe restrictions against the use of firewood are expected to be enforced, to
prevent deforestation, especially where erosion is acute.
An economic study determined that, despite its effectiveness, water boiling as an
standardized method for ensuring the quality of drinking water is not many a feasible
option for economic reasons in most families in developing countries (Gilman, 1985).

In these places it is possible to use radiant sun energy for disinfection. There are
several methods, described later in this paper, by which the water can be brought to
boiling point and thus disinfected.
Regardless of the method used to boil water, it is necessary to filter it to remove as
much of the organic carbon as possible to prevent re-contamination of the water. In
addition, the following recommendations should be observed:


Water should be boiled in a covered container.

Water should boil for not less than five minutes nor more than 15, counted from
the beginning of the vigorous boiling.
Later aeration should be avoided, since pouring water from one container to
another can re-contaminate it.
Once boiled, water should be cooled down and poured directly into the glass or
container for its consumption. Containers should not be introduced into the
boiled water.
Boiled water should be consumed within the following 24 hours, after which
time any remaining water should be discarded.

Pasteurization is a complementary treatment, based on the time/temperature relation

to destroy pathogenic germs that may be present in the water. This process destroys
coliforms and other non thermo-resistant bacteria. Fortunately, most pathogens are
found in this group. However, susceptibility to heat is conditioned also by other factors
such as the concentration of cells, their physiological condition, and others.
It has been observed that heating water at above 62.8C for 30 minutes or 71.7C for
15 seconds is sufficient to remove water-borne bacteria, rotaviruses and
enteroviruses from contaminated water. In addition, cysts of Giardia lamblia that are
usually resistant to chlorination, are inactivated easily at 56C during 10 minutes,
while the thermal death point of Entamoeba histolytica cysts has been set at 50C
(Ciochetti, 1984).
2.2.1 Pasteurization using solar heaters
In rural areas, pasteurization can be carried out with solar heaters or solar stoves. The
advantages of using this equipment are listed below:

it does not depend on conventional energy, the cost of which increases with the
growing demand;
toxic chemical substances are avoided;
simple and low-cost equipment is required, investment costs are rapidly
recovered, and safe drinking water is provided for many years;
it is environment-friendly.

In 1992, at the Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologa del Agua (IMTA), the efficiency of one
of these heaters was evaluated as a pasteurization method for drinking water in rural
areas. The equipment tested was a commercial solar heater with a collector of
approximately 2 m2 made of low-density polyethylene, with an aluminum frame and a
glass cover 3 mm in thickness. The collector has 36 black pipes made of low-density
polyethylene, with an inside diameter of 1.56 cm, welded to two header pipes with an
inside diameter of 2.0 cm, storing approximately 15 L of water during heating. This
collector is connected by pipes of the same material to a thermo-tank made of plastic,
fiberglass, and insulated with polyurethane foam, with 200 L capacity for effluent
The operation principle of these systems is known as convector circuit or passive
solar heating, where solar radiation heat is absorbed by the black pipes, increasing
water temperature inside the connector and consequently reducing water density.
Under these conditions, the cold water column in the return pipe to the collector is no
longer balanced by the lower-density hot water column and, by gravity, the former falls
and displaces the latter toward the tank. This natural circulation known as
thermosiphon continues as long as there is sufficient heat to increase the water
temperature and the resulting push force can overcome the pressure drop in the
system (Figure 1).




Figure 1. Thermosiphon for water heating

The equipment is relatively easy to install or adapt to any existing facility. Its only
requirement is that the hot water collector tank be raised approximately 60 cm above
the highest collector point. It does not require a specific pressure for its operation. The
feeding water tank needs to be placed next to the collector, which makes its use
attractive in places where piped water is not available. The collector should be placed
with an inclination approximate to the latitude of the locality (in Mexico, between 15
and 35 ) and it should face to the south.

The only maintenance work needed is to keep the collector clean, since dirt will
reduce the quantity of radiation captured by the collector. Cleaning frequency will
depend on the degree of air pollution. Acrylic covers are not recommended since they
deform and scratch easily.
When a solar heater is used for disinfection, efficiency depends directly on the
temperature reached for pasteurization. Based on experimental data, it was
determined that the water reaches its highest temperature between 14:30 and 15:30
hours. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid draining the tank before this time in
order to increase the residence time of the water in the collector (Mrquez, 1994).
Among the experimental data, it was also observed that in 99% of the cases, coliform
removal is total for effluent temperatures of 55C. However, for safety reasons, it is
desirable to leave a margin and establish 60C as the minimum disinfection
Figure 2 presents a diagram of water behavior in the heater under different climate
conditions. On sunny days it is possible to reach a maximum temperature of 69C,
while during cloudy days, the maximum temperature is 54C. Consequently, on sunny
days, approximately 150 L of water with temperatures above 55 C can be obtained
(Mrquez, op cit.).

Water temperature ( C)

Cloudy day
Sunny day





100 120 140 160 180 200

Extracted volume (L)

Figure 2. Variation in the volume of hot water available in terms of temperature

on a sunny day and a cloudy day
From the economic standpoint, it was determined that the initial investment for the
equipment ($350.00 dollars approximately, at current prices) is rapidly recovered
during the first few years of use.

Considering that this equipment was not designed for this purpose, there is no way of
knowing whether the temperature reached pasteurization point. It would be
recommendable to apply the design suggested by the Universidad de San Luis
Potos, whereby a thermostat is installed coupled to a stopcock that allows water to
pass only when it has reached a temperature of over 60C. Thus, the hot water is
given two-fold use: very hot water passes to a deposit for drinking water, while the
remaining (less hot) is available for other domestic use.
There are more sophisticated solar heaters available on the market. Some have
collectors with double glass covers and pipes with copper fins, and selective surfaces
to capture more solar energy and convert it into useful heat. Some of them reach
temperatures above 90 C and even vaporize the water. However, it is necessary to
evaluate whether the local climate justifies the investment; otherwise, less efficient, but
also less expensive, equipment can be used.
2.2.2 Pasteurization using solar stoves
The first report on the use of solar stoves dates back more than two hundred years
(Blum, 1992). Now, after many years, manufacturers have designed variations that are
being used worldwide for cooking and baking. In many developing countries,
especially where deforestation is a serious problem, solar ovens are the only option
for the population to cook and to pasteurize drinking water (Skiar, 1991).
The use of solar energy in the pasteurization of contaminated river water was
demonstrated more than 15 years ago. Through the use of solar stoves, it is possible
to disinfect water in dark glass containers in one or two hours (Ciochetti, 1984).
Coliform bacteria are inactivated at temperatures above 60C, while in solar stoves,
water can reach temperatures as high as 90C (Blum, 1992). In India, it is possible to
keep water boiling for five hours inside a solar stove (Mishra, 1985).
In addition to the implicit advantages of prevention and control of diseases caused by
the consumption of polluted water, solar stoves offer other benefits such as:

Firewood is not required, thus, deforestation and erosion are prevented in rural
areas. It has been calculated that to bring a liter of water to boiling point,
approximately one kg of firewood is required.
These stoves do not consume fossil fuels either. This is especially useful in
rural zones where gas supply is a problem.
They do not produce smoke, as open hearths do, that cause respiratory
They are not expensive and are easy to build.
They are very useful in case of disasters, when there is no electricity, gas,
wood or water available.

Unfortunately, there also exist some disadvantages that should be taken into account:

They are twice as slow as a conventional stove.

They cannot be used on cloudy or rainy days.

Principle of operation. A solar stove consists of a couple of boxes that may be made
of cardboard, one inside the other, used to trap sun heat and use it, in this case, to
heat water (Figure 3). The principle is to use the heat from the sun by radiation
trapping it inside the small box and preventing it from escaping by covering the box
with a transparent glass pane. This heat is transferred by conduction through metal
pots to the water contained in the pots. It is desirable to use a reflector to direct solar
rays toward the box, maintaining the heat. The use of reflectors reduces
approximately 35% of the process time (Mishra, op. cit.)

Figure 3. Diagram of a solar stove

Free space between the two boxes is filled with an insulating material that may be
balls of newspaper, rubber foam, etc. The inside of the small box is coated with
reflecting material such as aluminum foil. At the bottom of this box, a black color sheet
is placed. It is also advisable that metal pots be painted black or smoked to absorb
more heat. Metal pots should be used preferably. Clay pots are not so
recommendable because this material is insulating but also preserves the heat more.
If there is sunshine for more than six hours, they can be used without problems.
Construction. A small wooden or cardboard box measuring 55 x 45 x 25 cm and a
larger one of 60 x 50 x 30 cm are required. Measures can vary slightly but it is
advisable to leave 5 cm of free space between the two boxes for the insulating
material. The large box should be lined with a material that keeps it dry (oil paint, wax,
oil, fiberglass, etc.).
Before assembling the boxes, cubes of 2 or 3 cm are fixed inside the large box to
support the small box. These can be small cubes of wood or cardboard. The holes are
filled with the insulating material. The cover of the large box, lined with aluminum foil,

serves as a reflector and it will also need a support so the wind will not move it. This
support can be a wooden slat. The transparent cover is placed on the stove,
preferably transparent glass of 3 or 4 mm thickness.
Once finished, the solar stove is placed outside the house with the reflector facing
On a sunny day, four liters of water can be disinfected in three hours approximately,
(Aguilar, 1992). To keep the water clean, it is desirable to leave the water in the same
covered container until it is used.
Containers, either of glass or metal, of one liter or less, are better if painted black on
the outside. It is not advisable to use plastic materials since they can melt at high
temperatures. Also cows milk and infant formula are disinfected at 71 C. Reaching
this temperature is a slow process which can slightly change the milks flavor, but it is
a safe way of eliminating pathogens. (Aguilar, op. cit.).
In November 1992, IMTA carried out some preliminary tests for 20 days. A cardboard
box lined, both inside and outside, with aluminum foil and a glass cover of 3 mm was
used. A thin aluminum pot painted in dull black was placed inside the box. The pot
contained seven liters of water contaminated with one liter of the effluent that passes
through the facilities. The exposure period was five hours (from 10.00 to 15.00 hours).
The average temperature reached by the water during the testing period was 55.6C,
with a maximum of 60.5C and a minimum of 50C, while the average outside
temperature was 28C. In all the analyses, the removal of total coliforms and faecal
bacteria was 99.9%.
It should be borne in mind that these results were obtained from a box without
insulating material. Therefore, it is expected that the temperature reached could be
higher if two boxes were used. In order to have a larger safety margin, it is
recommended to use smaller containers, for example three containers of two liters
instead of one of six liters. It is advisable that before adopting this method, some tests
be carried out, measuring the water temperature after four or five hours. If the average
temperature is in all cases above 60C, the water is fit for consumption. Otherwise, it
should be used for other purposes.
The maintenance of a solar box is very simple, since it consists only in keeping the
inside, glass and reflectors clean.
At present, there are three basic types of solar ovens or stoves: with boxes, with a
parabolic reflector, and with multiple reflectors. For economic reasons, this report
considers only the box stoves.
One of the more sophisticated designs on the market is the portable solar oven
manufactured by Burns company in Milwaukee, United States. It is made of fiberglass,

which is an insulating material per se, and has four anodized aluminum reflectors.
However, its cost is quite a bit higher and its efficiency is only slightly better than a
solar box made of cardboard.

Solar stills

One of the thermal applications of solar energy that can be handled with technology
ranging from simple to very sophisticated, is the production of drinking water from sea
water or from contaminated fresh water.
The principle of water disinfection using solar energy is the same natural process of
the hydrologic cycle: the water containing salts from the reservoir is evaporated and
condensed elsewhere, obtaining purified water. This process is easy to achieve in
what is known as a solar still.
The solar still was initially developed for use on islands and, in general, in arid coastal
regions to obtain drinking water from sea water. In terms of appropriate technology to
supply drinking water to small communities and families, the solar still is a good
alternative, not only for removing salts from water, but also for eliminating any
pathogens the water may contain.
Solar stills are not a recent invention. In 1847, in Chile, a large solar still system was
built to supply a nitrite mine with fresh water. The system worked successfully for at
least forty years, supplying up to 23 thousand liters of water per day (Hermosillo,
1989). In Baja California, Mexico, in 1964, two plants were built to produce 28.4
m3/day. It was the largest facility in the world at the date of its installation and in 1989,
there were some 50 desalting plants in different parts of the country. Solar stills are
also used as standard equipment in some lifeboats for emergencies at sea
(Hermosillo op. cit.).
Principle of operation. A solar still requires a solar collector, which is an element that
transforms solar energy into an increase in water temperature. The water is thus
evaporated. Visible and infrared radiation is absorbed by any dull black surface. The
dull finish is used to achieve better absorption and prevent losses of a fraction of light
by reflection.
In the simplest solar stills, the solar collector consists of a black horizontal tray
containing the water to be distilled, which is called the distillant. The black surface of
the tray absorbs solar radiation, producing heat that is immediately transmitted to the
water. As the sun rises on the horizon during the morning, the distillant is warmed,
reaching its highest temperature shortly after noon, and then it cools down as the sun
To prevent undesirable loss of heat, it is necessary to insulate the bottom of the pan
thermally. A well-insulated still should not be hot on the lower part. The heating of the

distillant increases its steam pressure. This steam pressure is far higher than that of
the mineral salts. Upon heating a solution, water evaporates while salts are retained in
the pan, achieving an efficient separation. To facilitate evaporation, the evaporator
should have a large area compared with the volume of distillant that it contains.
Once the water, free of salts, is converted into steam, it must be returned to its liquid
phase on a clean surface and then extracted from the still. This takes place in the
condenser, which is usually a glass cover or some other transparent material placed
above the evaporator at the right distance and slope.
There are several designs for condensers. The simplest consists in a glass gable
box, with a slope of 20 with respect to the horizontal; the drops of condensed water
drain downwards and are collected in small canals (Figure 4).
Construction. In a solar still, the tray or collector can be made of several different
materials resistant to water and to a temperature of 80 C. Collector-evaporators
have been built with iron sheets, plastic strengthened with fiberglass, masonry, wood,
ferrocement, etc.
The material most used for condensers is glass or some plastics such as acrylic,
polyethylene, polyvinyl and polyester, although the latter tend to degrade faster by
solar radiation and become opaque with time.
Thermal insulators on the sides of the still and below it are very important. Cork and
the solid foam of various plastic materials such as polyethylene, polyurethane and
polystyrene are very useful. Sawdust (wood shavings), fiberglass wool, corrugated
cardboard and paper in layers are also good insulators. Many non-metallic solids can
work as insulating materials and will be better if their density is lower and their
thickness is wider.

a) Glass cover

c) Inflated plastic cover

d) V-shape plastic cover

b) Reflector glass cover


Figure 4. Diagrams of simple solar stills

Silicon can be used to seal some parts of the still, especially the glass parts. The
material of the ducts that transport the distilled water to the container or deposit is
important . Copper piping seems to be the most suitable.
Feeding of the distillant. On sunny days the common box-type still produces between
three and five liters daily of distillate per each square meter. This means a reduction
in the depth of the distillant from 0.3 to 0.5 cm/day, thus, feeding can be performed
once a day. This form of discrete or batch operation is practical when feeding is
performed manually, as proposed for a rural family system.
The function of the solar still is to remove foreign matter contained in polluted water to
obtain purified water (distillate).
To give water a good flavor, it is advisable to receive the distillate in a perfectly clean
clay pot. Water should be consumed or discarded within the next 24 hours.
The Florida Solar Energy Center published the results of some experiments
comparing different methods for desalting drinking water. The conclusions mention
that simple solar stills are adequate from the practical and economic standpoints for
small installations in isolated places, while the processes of multi-effect distillation,
fast distillation of multiple stages, separation by freezing, electrodialysis and reverse
osmosis are more adequate for large commercial facilities (Block, 1989).
This treatment method is widely used in India at domestic and community levels.
Different institutions in that country have devoted themselves to research, both from
the technical and economic viewpoints (Gomkale, 1978). During these studies, it was
determined that the payback period for a domestic rural solar still was 1.1 years
(Kumar, et al. 1978).
2.3.1 Combined process of solar pre-heating and distillation
The Health Secretariat in Mexico proposed a device consisting of a water feed
deposit, a thermosiphon and a condenser. It is useful in areas where the temperature
is not high enough for condensation to occur; in such cases, the thermosiphon heats
the water before it passes to the condenser (Figure 5).


Combined thermosiphon and solar stills






Glass cover

Distilled water
collection tank

Acrylic tray
(Distilled water collector)

Figure 5. Combined solar thermosiphon and still

The thermosiphon is a sealed wooden cabinet, with two transparent glass sheets
measuring 79 x 77 cm with a 2 cm separation between them. The collector has 17
copper tubes, 1.5 cm in diameter, connected to two heads, 2.5 cm in diameter: a
lower inlet head and a higher outlet one. The structure is supported on a laminated
tray painted dull black.
The thermosiphon is connected to the condenser by means of a copper pipe 1.25 cm
in diameter, and it has a stopcock to regulate the flow to one drop per second.
The condenser is a wooden hermetically sealed cabinet. In the front, it has a
transparent glass sheet, 83 x 62 cm, inclined at an angle of 45. Water from the
thermosiphon is collected in a laminated tray in the lower part of the condenser, where
it evaporates when the temperature rises. The distillate is collected in a tray
measuring 60 x 13 cm with an orifice in one end that drains to the collection deposit.
Operation. The device should be installed in an open site and the collector
thermosiphon covers should face south. The deposit must be filled with 25 L of clear
water, preferably already filtered. When the stopcock opens, the water flows to the
thermosiphon and on to the condenser tray. Then, the stopcock is closed and it is
necessary to wait for the temperature inside the collector to rise up to approximately
70 C. It is useful to affix a thermometer with a scale of -10 to 110 C. Then, when the
stopcock is opened, the water from the thermosiphon flows up to the condenser tray
and the flow is regulated to one drop per second. The stopcock is closed at night.


Photochemical disinfection processes


In 1979 in Beirut, Lebanon, Acra et al. found that removal of total and faecal coliform
bacteria was significantly higher when polyethylene bags containing oral rehydrating
solution were exposed to sunlight, compared to samples left in rooms with artificial
light or completely in the dark (Acra et al. 1980).
Both ionizing radiation of ultraviolet type (UV) and electromagnetic radiation of visible
light can damage cells, killing them. The effect is based on damaging key molecules
such as nucleic acids, either separating them physically in such a way that they
reproduce incorrectly or by photochemical reactions that lead to errors in the
subsequent synthesis of proteins, in such a way that the organism cannot survive
(Hooper, 1987).
The bactericide effect of sunlight -- or photodisinfection -- has been known for a long
time. At first, it was thought that this effect was due to the exclusive action of UV rays,
afterwards, it was verified that it is determined by the combination of several
wavelengths of the spectrum.
Recently, numerous studies have been carried out to determine the conditions under
which solar disinfection is possible. Results show that, mainly in tropical areas
(preferably between 15 and 35 latitude), where solar radiation reaches a certain level
(>500 W/m2), it is possible to disinfect small volumes of water contained in translucent
glass or plastic containers. Lawand et al (1994) report that disinfection can be
assumed to be safe and 100% inactivation is obtained when accumulated solar
radiation exceeds 4.000 W-hs/m2 during exposure time, which is generally after five
or six hours.
Experimental studies have determined that the time required for total removal of
certain microorganisms varies between 15 minutes and eight hours (Table 1).


Table 1. Inactivation times observed for

different organisms (Acra, et al., 1984)
Type of microorganism
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Salmonella flexneri
S. typhi y S. enteritidis
Escherichia coli
S. parathyphi B
Aspergillus niger
A. flavus
Candida y Geotrichum spp
Suspension of Penicillium sp

15 min
30 min
60 min
75 min
90 min
3 hours
3 hours
3 hours
6-8 hours

In experiments carried out in Switzerland, it was found that the dose of solar radiation
required to inactivate E. coli, the bacteriophage f2, and a rotavirus was approximately
555 W-h/m2 measured in the range of 350-450 nm of wavelength, or the equivalent of
five hours around noon at 45 degrees latitude. Likewise, the encephalomyocarditis
virus was twice as resistant to solar radiation (Wegelin et al, 1993).
Subsequently in 1988, in Montreal, Canada, the first workshop on solar disinfection
was held, and research experiences from different countries were shared (Alward,
1988). The following factors are regarded as the most relevant and determinant for
microorganism removal:



Intensity of sunlight and exposure time depend on geographical location

(latitude), seasonal variation, clouds, effective range of wavelength of light and
the time of day.
Type of bacteria exposed, nature and composition of the medium, and the
presence of nutrients capable of maintaining growth and reproduction of
Type and characteristics of containers (color, shape, size, thickness and
transparency to sunlight).
Degree of turbidity, volume and depth of the water.

In 1992, at IMTA, several preliminary experiments were conducted to evaluate the

effectiveness of this method in total and faecal coliform removal (Tavira and Celada,
1992). In these experiments, different water volumes (three and six liters) were
exposed in containers of different materials (polyethylene bags, glass bottles and
plastic demijohns) for five hours. Every hour, a sample was taken and the result of
each sample was compared with the initial population of bacteria, to obtain the
removal percentage.


The results of these experiments showed that total coliform removal is more efficient
in polyethylene bags of three and six liters and 99% removal is achieved in four hours
of exposure for both volumes. Therefore, it is assumed that by using this material,
removal is quicker, and in a way this is regardless of the volume.



Time (h)
White plastic 3 L

Glass bottle 3.L

Plastic bag 3.L

Plastic bag 6.L

White plastic 6 L

Figure 6. Average percentage of faecal coliform removal

by type of material used

It was also observed that when using plastic demijohns, disinfection was slower and
that six hours were required to achieve 99% removal. Finally, glass bottles showed
the lowest efficiency; for a three-liter volume, four to six hours were required to
achieve total disinfection.
These preliminary results were the basis to consider this procedure as adequate for
rural communities. The method is extremely simple and economic. However, there are
still many doubts regarding the process. The main doubts were: what solar radiation
conditions make disinfection possible; what should be the turbidity limit; and what
level of bacteria concentration is possible to inactivate by applying this process.
In 1993, IMTA designed a prototype for photodisinfection and its efficiency was tested
by exposing 10 L of water to the sun with different concentrations of coliform bacteria,
in periods of four hours for 75 days. Through a rotary band pyranometer, the direct
and diffused radiation was determined. Also, the transmittance of some materials
was measured (Mrquez and Celada, 1994). The results of this study demonstrated


the lower the salt and organic matter in water, the higher was the velocity of
coliform removal;
faecal coliforms were inactivated more quickly than total coliforms;
pure strains of Escherichia coli were very susceptible;
the average of faecal coliform removal was 97.11% with an initial average
concentration of 15,000 CFU/100 mL and turbidity up to 100 NTU;
in Jiutepec, Morelos, on a sunny day, it was possible to have more than eight
hours of direct radiation above 500 W/m2. This is very important because
under these conditions of radiation, only two hours are enough to disinfect
small volumes;
99% removal percentages were more related to total energy flows above 100
kw/m2 during the testing period of four hours (Figure 7);
a higher removal velocity was obtained when the amount of direct radiation
was low and the diffused radiation was high, i.e. on cloudy days. This finding is
particularly important since it contradicts the idea that the process works during
sunny days only. This is because on cloudy days, when the quantity of diffused
or reflected light is high, the UV component is relatively significant (Figure 8).
tests with several materials showed that acrylic is transparent only at
wavelengths above 420 nm and reduces its transmittance by 2% after 75 days
of exposure. Transparent TPE (polyethylene terephtalate) transmits 80% of the
wavelengths higher than 400 nm, and thin glass transmits 75% of the
wavelengths higher than 350 nm. The material with the highest transmittance
was polyethylene. This material is 70% transparent to UV radiation of 250 nm.

% o fc o l i f o r m r e m o v a l


Solar radiation (kW/m







Figure 7. Percentage of coliform removal in terms of solar radiation in four

hours of exposure
Considering the high transmittance of some materials such as TPE and polyethylene
bags, solar disinfection becomes highly recommendable for rural areas. Plastic (TPE)
bottles can be used for this purpose and should be carefully handled to avoid any
scratch so they will last longer.


A disadvantage of using UV or solar radiation as a disinfection method is that it does

not provide any residual protection against recontamination (Lawand, 1986).
However, if the container is kept closed and in a cool place, there is no risk of
recontamination (Celada, 1994).
Unlike photothermal processes (pasteurization and distillation), where direct radiation
is more important, in this case, the most important is total radiation, i.e., the amount of
direct light that is limited on cloudy days, plus diffused light that is considerable on
cloudy days due to cloud reflection. Thus, the method works even on slightly cloudy
days. However, during extremely cloudy and rainy days, an alternative disinfection
method should be used.
In periods like the present one, where the risk of contagion of acute diarrhoeal
diseases such as cholera threatens the population, this alternative is particularly
useful mainly in locations without drinking water or disinfection systems. However,
before adopting this disinfection method it is necessary to determine the following:

approximate number of sunny and cloudy days in the area;

average concentration of total and faecal coliforms;
water turbidity (if it is too turbid it should be filtered or some other kind of
treatment should be used to reduce turbidity).


Survival CFU (ln))

Average of direct radiation . 824 W/m


Average of direct radiation. 75 W/m







Figure 8. Decline of E. coli population in terms of exposure time on a sunny

and a cloudy day
The population should be advised that when using plastic bags, these should
preferably be new and they should be used exclusively for this purpose, exposing less
than three liters, and for more than four hours, to give a wider margin of safety to the


It should also be recommended that if the water is turbid it should be previously

filtered, using a sand filter and then exposed to the sun.


Other solar disinfection processes


Solar concentrators

Solar concentrators are devices that increase solar intensity on an absorbent surface,
which will receive only solar rays through its opening. Solar radiation concentration is
achieved through optical devices that reflect or refract solar radiation and concentrate
the incident rays on an absorber on a much smaller area than that of the opening
(Almanza, 1994).
The main advantage of the concentrator over a flat collector is that the energy flow is
higher per absorption surface unit; thus, thermal losses are reduced, since the area of
the absorber is smaller, reaching temperatures above 200 C. There are stationary
concentrators with a concentration of 1 to 10 times the normal radiation and
concentrators with a follow-up mechanism and very precise geometric curvatures with
concentration ratios of 10 to 3,000 (Almanza, 1994).
Concentrators that increase temperature work only with the direct component of the
solar radiation. However, there are also concentrators that work with the diffused and
UV component of sunlight. Because of the high efficiency of these devices, the latter
have been used not only for disinfection, but also for detoxification processes (Blanco
et al, 1991).



All disinfection processes mentioned can be implemented in rural areas. The final
recommendation will depend on the geographical location, water quality and habits
and preferences of the population.
It is recommended that further research be carried out on the efficiency of other solar
disinfection methods, in order to offer the population more alternatives.




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