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Desolenator: purifying water with the sun

Feb 23, 2018 - 3min read

‘Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink’ – so the old saying goes. When two-thirds of the planet are covered in water and yet the UN describe a global water crisis, the expression is devastatingly apt. 844 million people live without access to clean water, with the UN predicting that by 2030 nearly half the world’s population will be in this predicament.

Many methods of desalination are both wasteful and expensive to install. Other families without access to a reliable supply of clean water spend unnecessary amounts on bottled water – again creating further waste in the form of discarded plastic bottles.

98% of the earth’s water is seawater but we only acquire 0.5% of drinking water from desalination. To tackle the water crisis, it’s clear that we need to invest in desalination. The problem is that desalination is a wasteful process. To produce 4 barrels of water requires 1 barrel of oil. Desolenator’s mission is to make this process sustainable.

The Desolenator is a device that uses solar to power a micro-boiler that can cleanse water of common pollutants including arsenic and fluoride and can turn salt water into drinking water. Tonik speaks to Alexei Levene – one of the co-founders – about his refreshing innovation.

Alexei recalls his first meeting with co-founder William Janssen and “feeling inspired; both by the elegance of the concept and by William as a true visionary.”

“At that time, there was no Desolenator. William had come up with the idea and built a proof in his living room.”

Desolenator diagram

The Desolenator consists of a solar panel that converts sunlight to electricity. Water flows over the panel and absorbs heat before flowing into a miniature boiler which finishes converting it to steam, eventually condensing to drinkable water. 15 litres of distilled water can be produced in just one day – enough to sustain a family – and the mechanism has a lifespan of 20 years.

Alexei elaborates on the efficiency of smart solar technology. He says that “with traditional solar power systems, only 15% of potential energy is converted to electricity and the rest is lost as heat. Desolenator harvests the maximum solar energy hitting the surface area, using thermal energy to heat the water before using the electrical energy to bring that to a boil. The effective heat soak management within the system means Desolenator maintains an optimal efficiency of electricity generation throughout.”

A sophisticated yet simple model creation; a neat financial model complimented the device.

Alexei’s initiative was to market the mobile desalination gadget at niche markets (like camping enthusiasts, sailors or survivalists) and the profits generated there facilitate a micro-financing model for those who do not have access to clean water and cannot afford to buy a Desolenator outright. Using a pay-as-you-go model, users eventually own their device.

Therein lies the real USP of the Desolenator is the promise of self-sufficiency. This guarantees users’ independence even in times of crisis.

Desolenator in use

Despite gaining recognition from prestigious organisations including NASA, Singularity University and Pitch at the Palace, Alexei insists that the true measure of their success will always be “by litres created and drank”. That said, he looks forward to “over time being able to measure the impact we have on health and on time saved – especially for the many women in Africa who need to walk around 6 kilometres every day, just to fetch clean water”.

Appraising a business as ‘more than profit’ has been a theme in Alexei’s career. He believes that social enterprise is “a helpful concept that gets people to think differently from the binary impasse of business or charity”. The company’s goal is to make 1 million people water independent within their first 5 years of operations.

Desolenator’s solution is crystal-clear, in every sense, “the most important thing is to have a core intention to create social impact, and not to dilute this over time.”

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