AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) —  “We know that water quality is one of the most important things to our health, even in the U.S. we still have a lot of water contamination accidents,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo say a device which they call a solar vapor generator, is able to clean water by using heat from sunlight.

“So the basic idea is that if we have white surfaces they reflect light and black surfaces absorb light. So when we have this black carbon dyed paper it absorbs all that solar light and converts it into heat,” said Matt Singer, University at Buffalo graduate student.

The device uses inexpensive materials like paper, carbon powder, and foam. Here’s how it works: the sun evaporates the water, and contaminants are left behind. Once the water vapor cools back to liquid, it’s collected in a separate container without the contaminants. UB researchers say it’s an environmentally friendly and efficient way to clean water.

“A lot of the methods they use to clean water now, they use a lot of electrical power that costs a lot of money it’s not great for the environment,” said Singer.

UB researchers say the generator could be a low cost way to help a lot of people in disaster relief areas.

“Even right here in America the Flint, Michigan crisis that was so big and still going on, this could be something that these people could use to purify their dirty water right now,” said Singer.

How much water the device can purify depends on the amount of sunlight or solar energy input.

UB researchers are currently working to develop the product into something people can use on a daily basis.