According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 780 million people do not have access to clean water sources. The inventor of a water-purification technology hopes to change that statistic and offer an affordable and sustainable way of addressing the global water crisis.

Using only solar energy, the “Desolenator” provides clean water from any source. Tech Briefs spoke with creator William Janssen about the importance of his self-powered device. Desolenator, Janssen says, is both a company and a call to action.

The Desolenator was the "Sustainable Technologies" winner of last year's Create the Future Design Contest.

A diagram of the Desolenator. (Credit: Janssen)

Tech Briefs: What is the Desolenator?

William Janssen: Desolenator offers a new way to create drinking water from saline water, in a sustainable manner. Desolenator uses a co-harvesting method to generate both heat and electricity. The “thermal desalination process” creates distilled water by boiling off salty water.

Tech Briefs: From a technology perspective, how does the Desolenator work?

Janssen: At the core of a Desolenator is a solar PV panel. Most people are familiar with photovoltaic technology and that it can generate electricity at an efficiency level of about 15%. What many people forget to realize is what happens to the other 85% of solar energy. It is mainly lost in the form of heat.

Desolenator uses a completely insulated solar panel, encapsulating all this heat. We flow a thin film of saline water over the PV panel’s surface, cooling down the panel and transferring the heat to the water. We then boil off this hot water efficiently in a separate boiler and recapture all the energy caught in the vapor, through heat exchange. This way we can create 4-5 gallons of water in a standard, PV-panel-sized device.

Tech Briefs: Compared to alternative technologies, what is special about the Desolenator design?

Janssen: If there is no water infrastructure available, a large water plant becomes dependent on the water truck to distribute water through a region. The water truck carries pollutants and is more expensive than you might think. Because our device is small and affordable, we can overcome major obstacles to efficiently distribute water in developing countries.

By empowering people through access to their own Desolenator unit, they can make as much water as they need for daily drinking and cooking. There is no need for expensive plants and no need for trucks. The environmental gains are huge; Desolenator can produce at 1 gram of CO2 per liter.

Tech Briefs: What is most exciting to you about the technology?

The Desolenator in action. (Credit: Janssen)

Janssen: The most compelling aspect about Desolenator is that a simple idea can make a world of difference in the lives of people, for whom water is a daily struggle.

Tech Briefs: What kind of product-design work still needs to be done?

Janssen: We are currently busy preparing for summer testing, and choosing the best solar panel for our system. We have mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline, and thin-film devices running next to each other, and we’ll measure the power output, the surface temperature, and the heat transmission into the water reservoir below.

After that, we will also work out the optimal designs and shapes of various parts by running similar “side-by-side” tests. We’ll determine how much hot water we can generate and how much steam.

Tech Briefs: What's next for this system?

Janssen: We are currently testing the product in Cyprus and Dubai and putting the finishing touches on the product design. We will start shipping the product in early 2018.

We have already signed a contract with a large municipal water authority in an extremely arid location to develop a community-sized version of the Desolenator, producing up to 1000 gallons of water per day and using only solar power to run 24 hours per day. This innovation is scheduled to start operation in mid-2018.

Tech Briefs: How do you envision the technology being used in the future?

Janssen: We sincerely hope that people will start using water more consciously and flush less good drinking water down the toilet, and realize that the world is facing a major water supply crisis. Water is the most vital liquid in our lives — way more important than fuel, and we are running out fast. Desolenator is a company, but even more it is a call to action!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Can the Desolenator provide a solution for the global water crisis? Write your comments below.

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