Our Research Off-grid portable ion concentration polarization desalination unit

Diagram of ICPwatTech device (a portable desalination system)

Figure of the ICPwatTech device, a portable desalination system.

Principal Investigator

Jongyoon Han

  • Professor of Electrical Engineering
  • Professor of Biological Engineering
  • Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Department of Biological Engineering

Jongyoon Han is currently a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received both BS and MS degrees in physics from Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, and a PhD in applied physics from Cornell University in 2001. He won the NSF CAREER award in 2003, and the Analytical Chemistry Young Innovator Award in 2009. His research is mainly focused on applying micro/nanofabrication techniques to a very diverse set of fields and industries, including biosensing, desalination/water purification, biomanufacturing, dentistry, and neuroscience.


Why are we still using several billion plastic bottles of water, when they are expensive to ship, and environmentally disastrous?

Research Strategy

  • Develop a sustainable and economical bottled water alternative for various critical (cost-insensitive) applications that is at least 5X lower system cost than other commercial alternatives.
  • Cultivate a truly portable and low-maintenance desalination system capable of removing both salts and larger particles, and other contaminants.
  • Deploy prototypes to various field-operation scenarios for gathering user experiences.

Project description

J-WAFS Solutions Program

The water purifiers market is expected to grow from $45.0B in 2019 to $90.1B in 2025 with the decline of freshwater availability. However, the current products on the market (e.g., household reverse osmosis) are limited to treat low salinity feed (< 1 g/L, < 1 NTU), which is not adequate for addressing emerging challenges, such as salinization (e.g., groundwater in California) and sudden disaster (e.g., Flint water crisis). Building on the recent progress in the ion concentration polarization process, we completed a fully functional prototype of a portable desalination system. It is a compact (~ 1.5 ft3) and lightweight (< 10 kg) apparatus capable of removing dissolved (up to 45 g/L) and suspended solids (up to 30 NTU) altogether from brackish water and seawater to yield potable water (< 0.5 g/L) at the rate of 1 L/h. At the end of the project, the next-generation prototype and its performance will be demonstrated, and the mass production strategy and business model will be established. The target prototype will have 1 L/h per cartridge (stackable up to 10 cartridges, ~10 L/h). It will be useable in both installed and remote field settings with renewable power options (solar panel).


Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Water

Research Themes

  • Water Purification & Desalination

Year Funded

  • 2021

Grant Type

  • Solutions Grant


  • Ongoing