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Bringing solar-powered water purification systems to Lake Turkana, Kenya

A patented technology that uses 100% solar power to purify any water source into clean drinking water

Photo of Madeleine
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Sustainable access to clean water is the biggest challenge humanity faces, and it also underpins all other pillars of society. Desolenator has a patented technology that is optimised for distributed water distillation, powered 100% by solar energy. Our aim is to give end-users agency over purification, creating healthier populations and making available water resources safer. We are implementing a project in Lake Turkana in Northern where over 1 million people depend on the Lake water. The current drinking water has Sodium, Fluoride and Nitrate levels 269%, 187% and 119% higher than World Health Organisation guidelines respectively, (see attachment of Desolenator's lab tests in December 2018). Additionally, climate change has reduced annual rainfall as the long rainy season is becoming shorter and drier, which will increase the concentrations found in the Lake). We will deploy our technology to the region to purify the Lake water and make it compliant with WHO standards, using 100% solar power. Our technology is innovative for using both the thermal and electrical output from a single integrated PV panel, combined with a heat exchanger. We remineralise this distilled water within the device, and have units producing either 60 litres (for household) or 10,000 litres (for a community) each day. Our technology is ideal for working in this region as they have no grid connections and the water sources are too complex for other technologies (for example Reverse Osmosis needs replaceable filters and Lifestraws can't filter contaminants from the water). Our project will make parts of the community ‘Water Independent’, by directly achieving clean water and utilising the Planet’s natural water resources. However we will also increase Prosperity by creating healthier populations able to attend school and engage in the local economy. We will also boost Peace in the region by reducing conflict between different tribal groups who rely on the same water source.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

We will benefit the 3 main tribes who live around Lake Turkana (Turkana, El Molo and Samburu), by purifying the water they rely on. The water sources, already highly contaminated, are becoming increasingly concentrated due to unpredictable rainfall patterns and 2-3°C temperature rise in the past 45 years . There are no purification processes, so residents drink the lake water with the result that they have teeth deformities , skeletal fluorosis and waterborne diseases (see photos taken by Desolenator in December 2017). Poor health reduces attendance in the local school, and farming capabilities of the nomadic pastorialists. The burden of collecting water usually falls to the women and children, who have to walk several hours each day in search of less dirty water (and as a result miss out on an education or put themselves at risk of assault when far from home). By working with the local school we will educate children and the wider community about clean water.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The water contamination (mainly fluoride, sodium and nitrogen) is too complex for most technologies to purify and as a result the region has been neglected by many water initiatives. Our distillation process creates pure distilled water, even from highly complex sources like those found in Lake Turkana. It also builds resilience into the system as the technology needs no alterations to work with changing complexity, such as increasing Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) or contamination concentrations. Our process is designed to be simple - an integrated system that can be operating within a few days, and needs little training to operate. As it is 100% powered by solar energy, it works in this most remote region. Also by eliminating the filters and membranes we prolong device lifespan. The simple process means that we eliminate nearly all operating costs, and so over the device lifespan we produce water at a lower cost per litre than many existing technologies (<1cent/litre).

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Desolenator is a commercial company with a strong humanitarian mission, pioneering new standards for sustainable water purification.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Lake Turkana has often been neglected by water projects because of the complex water characteristics, and the region is also suffering from climate change. This is also one of the most remote regions in the world, where the populations have the least capacity to adapt. We won initial funding to bring ‘Water Independence’ to part of the Turkana community, but we can only scratch the surface with this. GHR would provide more funding to scale our solution and have further-reaching community impacts

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Water is the foundation for societies to succeed, and works in tandem with Planet, Prosperity and Peace. Planet impacts as Lake Turkana has experienced 3 years of drought and 2-3°C temperature rise in the past 45 years (Source: Human Rights Watch - Climate Change, Environmental Threats, and Human Rights in Turkana County, Kenya). Prosperity has also been impacted because of the generations of health problems from dirty water including skeletal fluorosis teeth mottling and sleeping sickness. Girls can’t go to school because they must collect water each day, and overall attendance and productivity in school and the local economy is compromised by repeated waterborne illnesses. Peace has frequently disrupted because of lack of suitable water. The main economy revolves around cattle, and with fewer and fewer suitable water sources in the area, rivalries between residents and nomadic tribes have increased. This has also led to an increase in theft of cattle as herd numbers decrease.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Expo Live provided initial funding. Desolenator will manage the project, working with Winds of Change which is the Foundation of private company Lake Turkana Wind Power, and a global NGO called (WaterIsLife). WoC will help with transport and installations of the units, and supplying local engineers and a project manager. We have been building relationships with the Chiefs of the village and the teachers in the local school so they are supportive of us bringing the technology. Once it is installed, we will distribute water to the children in the schools, coupled with an education on clean water. WaterIsLife will leverage their global experience to help us develop appropriate educational programmes. This water knowledge will then be shared with parents and trickle through to the community. We are going to work with the school and the medical clinic to measure impacts of clean water such as reduced cases of waterborne diseases and improved school attendance

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Desolenator will provide the technology and oversee project delivery. We have excellent ground partners including Lake Turkana Wind Power Group (Kenya and Africa’s largest renewable energy company). They will provide us with transport, infrastructure and installation support. We are collaborating with key community members including the local El Molo school and Chiefs and Elders. We are also working with globally-experienced NGO (WaterIsLife) on an education curriculum and impact measurement.

Geographic Focus

Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya, but our technology has global applicability.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We have been laying the project foundations for a year, including a successful site visit in December 2017. We will deliver units to Lake Turkana in September 2018, and have them installed and producing water by October 2018. We will spend around 6 months measuring quantities of water produced and the wider impacts such as increased attendance at school and reduced visits to medics for waterborne diseases. During this time we will also be trying to supplement funding and increase units in field

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)


Attachments (1)

Water sample analysis report + WHO guidelines.pdf

Desolenator took samples of the Lake water on a site visit in December 2017. These results show the levels of contaminants in the water, in contrast to recommended guidelines from the World Health Organisation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Luz Gallo

Hey Madeleine,
Check the other ideas that involve water and solar energy, maybe you can collaborate together.

Photo of David / Thomas Svarrer / Høyer

Hi Luz Gallo 

Interesting approach ... We are exactly doing that. We have found some 10 projects here on the OpenIDEO which we can DIRECTLY work with, and achieve leveraging for all of the communities involved by linking our projects together directly.

We have - in Nexus 7 project - already had conversation with 4 projects where we would plenty fold each projects impact simply by collaborating on how we spread out the solutions.

Which project are you working on, Luz?Nexus 7 Solar Concentrator @Nexus

Photo of Luz Gallo

Hey David, great to hear that. I'm not currently working on any project as I'm a community coach for this challenge. So my role is to connect ideas ;)
I'm eager to see how you collaborate with the other related projects!

Photo of David / Thomas Svarrer / Høyer

Dear Luz

We had the first inter-project physical meeting spawned directly by this years OpenIDEO challenge yesterday, between the Nexus 7 solar concentrator project and the Majik Water project (We were I, David Svarrer from Nexus 7, and Beth Kioko from Majik Water).

We agreed already yesterday to take this here further. I am heading for Denmark within the next 7 days, to work with my partners in Denmark, especially Thomas Høyer, with whom I have worked for 25 years - and with whom we together have created this solar concentrator.

So between the Nexus 7 and the Majik Water project we hope to have a more technical meeting, also with a workshop here in Nairobi, Kenya, (Named Gearbox), where it is possible to rent lathe machines, laser cutters, 3D printers etc. etc..

Beth and I agreed yesterday that we are going to create an interface between our projects such that we can provide solar energy to their water collector, and we already yesterday discussed certain improvements such that the water collector can produce more water per Watt put in.

This is - just like it is for our solar concentrator - crucial, for it to be as successful as possible, because cost of system is one thing, cost of production is another thing, and imagine if we by collaborate efforts are able to make the cost of the water come down to half or a third - then it is worth it all.

The interface will be created in such a way so that the Majik project can source for heat elsewhere too, and we will also create the interface such that it will be possible to connect to other energy applications in need of solar heating.

We are in similar conversations with the INSTAPOWER , however, with them we are still to meet up as we are in different countries. We will likely be meeting via Skype, once I am with Thomas in Denmark, as their Stirling Machine approach indeed is one more winner.

In fact I proposed to Beth yesterday that we look into an approach using a Stirling Engine which we "turn upside down" - that is - we provide a motor for it, and then, while driving it around, it will produce chill on one side, and heat on the other side, which again could be a great source for the Majik Water 

So, Luz, we are so so so happy for this opportunity, and we are on our way, full speed, to the stars :-)..

Can you follow the conversations? Then you can see the interconnections. We are also - but more on the receiving end - in contact with the guys who did the Myanmar drone planting of trees. We are trying from our end (Nexus 7) to understand how Blockchain is an enabler for them - as we have seen so badly how Blockchain has been abused with nobody being able to detect it - so when we have understood how it is they want to use Blockchain, we will try to examine how we can maybe assist them. Because without doing something, their enormously important projects could suffer from those who abuse this technology to impersonate - which could stall them, if their project kind of rests on that particular technology.

Once we have understood it better, we can maybe also assist them with proposals for other ways of achieving the same which they want to achieve via Blockchain. Not because of that Blockchain is bad - technologically it is extremely well suited for ledgers - but because of that it is being abused so terribly in ways which the normal users cannot distinguish from the real and proper use.

I hope it makes sense?

David Svarrer / (I am here writing on my own, Thomas is in a meeting now).
Rational Intuitive IVS
Nexus 7 Solar Concentrator 

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