How the sun can make sea water drinkable

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

Getting access to a reliable, clean source of water is a daily challenge for a lot of the world's population. According to the United Nations, roughly 1.2 billion people worldwide live in an area where water is physically scarce.

For many who do have access to water, it is often dangerously contaminated and unfit for human consumption: the World Health Organization states that 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with sewage.

One company is looking to change the lives of people across the planet by creating drinkable water from sunshine and sea water. Desolenator has developed what it describes as a solar-powered, low-cost desalination system that can, the company claims, "make any type of water – including sea water – drinkable."

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The size of a flat-screen TV, the Desolenator can produce roughly 15 liters of water per day, according to the company. The cost of installing a Desolenator in a house will be less than £500 ($774), according to William Janssen, founder and CEO of Desolenator.

Like any solar panel, the Desolenator converts sunlight into electric energy. Foam insulation and double glazing make the Desolenator incredibly hot, and when water is fed over what the company describes as a 'solar collector' it boils, creating water vapor. According to the website of Desolenator, this vapor is then, "captured and fed back into the solar collector as condensed, distilled water."

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"Currently there is no cheap, effective, straight forward small scale solution available for desalination," Janssen told in a phone interview.

"There are reverse osmosis devices… but they consume a huge amount of power, electrical energy, and they are not very green because they need chemicals and they need constant maintenance," he added. "They provide a solution, but it is a complicated solution."

Matt Walford | Cultura | Getty Images

As well as purifying sea water, the device can be used to treat other types of contaminated water. "For river water it is simpler to use a simple filter… it would be inefficient to use the Desolenator," Janssen said.

"However, there are many places in the world where the ground water contains heavy metals or items like arsenic and they cannot be removed by filtering, so for those kind of locations the Desolenator would be applicable," he added.

Janssen added that the device could be life-changing for millions of people: "Around the planet there… [are] many places where people have no money and no water," he said. "This device is affordable and it can be installed for any family… [who] would have enough water for their drinking and cooking needs on a daily basis," he added.

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With the design now completed, Janssen said that testing would take place before field trials in Tamil Nadu, southern India. The idea is that once the Desolenator comes to market, it will be sent to agents and distributors in areas of water stress. Desolenator will also look to sell directly to consumers, and make the product available for NGOs to distribute them to communities around the world.

"We can go and help people who are disenfranchised, who are thirsty and who are living with the stress of needing to obtain water on a daily basis," Janssen added.

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