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A prototype for household-scale desalination using solar power is in development-will it change the way people get water? This prototype of the Desolenator produces 15 liters of water per day and costs $650.  (image via desolenator)

 

Currently, approximately 1 billion people live under conditions of water stress-that is, without having reliable access to adequate amounts of clean water.  By 2030, it is estimated that half of the world’s population will be living under these conditions. Many of these people live in coastal areas and are dependent on daily deliveries from water trucks to get reliably clean drinking water. It was a crowdfunded project that reached it's target!

 

While traveling through Middle Eastern countries, Will Janssen, the founder and CEO of Desolenator, noted the heavy carbon emissions produced by large factory-scale desalination plants. Later, while in Thailand, he noticed the solar plate systems on rooftops that many people used to heat their homes.

 

Would it be possible, he wondered, to combine these two technologies to increase water access at a smaller scale? Would it be possible to create a system that didn’t come with such a high environmental price tag? Janssen wanted to find out. A couple of decades later, the Desolenator is poised to enter the market. The technology is remarkably simple. All you need is some polluted water and sunlight. The machine uses the electricity generated from sunlight to boil water until it vaporizes, then condenses the vapor and filters out the contaminants. The systems filter small volumes of water at a time-the water passes through the components several times before it is completely cleaned.

 

It can produce 4 gallons per day and requires no maintenance. Its estimated lifespan is 20 years.  Its price tag? About $650.

 

That’s a really great deal for a middle-income family, but the demographic that Janssen’s team hopes to reach are families living on incomes sometimes as low as $3 per day, making the home desalination equipment prohibitively expensive. That’s partly why it’s taken several years for the Desolenator to be market-ready. The equipment will be targeted to countries currently lacking water purification infrastructure, which means that the device must be reliable and live up to its claim of not needing maintenance, as that can be costly and requires specialized skill. Partnering with nonprofits and development agencies, Janssen acknowledges that the real obstacle to providing clean drinking water to more people is less about technology and more about the business of making it useable.

 

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