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Many, La., entrepreneur unveils solar still units for desert homes


A retired chemical engineer from Many, La., is assembling his first compact solar energy still this week that turns saltwater into distilled water. Hill Kemp received his second federal grant last month to continue his research at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Facility in New Mexico.

For the past seven years, Kemp has worked to reinvent the classic solar desalination process. He aims to compete against the conventional reverse osmosis purification method, and his results look promising. He said the classic solar still converted only about one-quarter of incoming solar energy into fresh water, while his technology is about 90 percent efficient.

Of the water we bring in, 80 percent ends up as distilled water -- no minerals. The rest is four pounds of salt. So, it's either pure water or solid salt," Kemp said, comparing his still production to what would happen to a glass of iced tea in a steam bath.

Kemp named it the Suns River Still. The small unit can be installed on top of homes in desert climates, and can run on its own solar energy. From his setup in Alamogordo, N.M., he's found that each unit can produce enough clean water to provide for a family of four. He's now seeking start-up capital to begin to fill orders. But, he said, it's a hard sell.

"Aristotle discovered this process 2,300 years ago. When you're working with a process that has a 2,300-year-old bad reputation because it didn't produce very much, I have trouble finding credibility in the capital markets," Kemp said. "At first blush, it's one more fool going down a path that people have tried for thousands of years and failed."

The 73-year-old entrepreneur splits his time between the research station and his home in Many. He said the cost of each modular unit will range between $3,000 and $5,000, and produce 30 gallons of clean water a day in the desert.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.