Innov8tiv Interviews Innovators Behind The Automated Domestic Desalinator That Seeks To Address Shortage Of Drinkable Water In Kenya
In our previous article, we featured five startups running campaigns on Indiegogo seeking funding to enable them address the problem of the ever decreasing drinkable water supply. Stats from the UN show that up to 85 percent of humans on the planet live on half of Earth’s driest places. A more keen look on these stats show close to 783 million people don’t have access to clean water, and about 6-8 million people die annually from water-related diseases.
Well, in our today’s feature, we bring you two Kenyan innovators that also have come up with an innovative product that also addresses the ever decreasing supply of drinkable water. The duo debut their project at the JKUAT Tech Expo 5.0 that took place last December, at the JKUAT main campus in Kiambu County, Kenya.
They pitched their project, dubbed, Desalination Plant at booth 17, which is where I got to meet them, and today you, the Innov8tiv readers, also get to meet them. The following is our exclusive interview with the two innovators:
We are a team of two, James Mwaura and Suzie Mugo. We were 5th year students who just cleared university last year in December, both pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mechatronic Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
Tell us about your project.
The automated domestic desalinator is a simple sensor-driven/controlled device that serves to produce fresh water from saline water. The desalinator itself is comprised of three chambers: a heat exchanger, a brine chamber and a concentrator unit.
The mechanism works by concentrating the sun’s energy onto an oil-bearing copper tube which transfers the heat gained to the brine/murky water within the brine chamber. A vacuum pump connected to the brine chamber partially evacuates the chamber enabling the water to vaporize at much lower temperatures than it would at ambient conditions. As such, we are able to get fresh water from sea water within a matter of minutes.
What inspired you to come up with this project.
In Kenya, one of the largest problems facing the population is the lack of access to fresh water. Indeed, in the arid areas or Turkana, whole communities have to trek for hundreds of kilometers just to find fresh water. We found that through using simple techniques such as harnessing the sun’s energy and the numerous saline water sources available in such areas e.g. boreholes, we could find a simple, affordable and more effective way to providing fresh water to these areas alleviating their suffering.
Does your project address any socio-economic challenges in Kenya if so tell us about it?
Aside from the general lack of water, we aimed to tackle the problem of overreliance on hydroelectric power as the main energy source in Kenya. While a lot of other energy sources are currently being developed in our country e.g. nuclear energy and geothermal power, the country’s solar potential is still not being exploited as desired. As such, we thought that through the use of the desalinator system, we could take advantage of areas that experience huge solar insolation.
Moreover, the desalinator also offers a solution to another huge problem in our country i.e. water-borne diseases. A number of the water sources in the country are heavily polluted yet the local population still consumes water taken from such sources. While the municipalities present in the country are certainly trying their best to provide fresh water for all, the overall demand is much higher than what the current capacity of such organizations can manage. In some areas, municipal water may not be supplied for days or weeks at a time. Thus, the desalinator we came up with helps alleviate this problem by providing fresh water to all communities in cases where other sources of fresh water are not available.
If you were to meet a Venture Capitalists, what reasons would you give him/her to invest in your project.
Perhaps the greatest reason for one to invest is the viability of this project, not only in our country but also in the sub-Saharan region. Presently, there is no affordable domestic product able to meet the fresh water demand of the general public. On the large scale, a single desalinator unit which is easy to construct and very environmental friendly would be more than capable of meeting the fresh water demand for very large communities.
It is important to remember that this project was borne from a desire to help alleviate some of the major socio-economic issues present in our country e.g. lack of fresh water sources and underdeveloped solar energy-based filtration systems. It has plenty of potential and its field of application is certainly very wide.
Have you taken any steps towards getting a Patent rights or Copyrights to this project.
We are currently talking with the university official in charge of patenting on the same.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in executing your idea into a project that can be demonstrated?
The most challenging thing was getting the project from idea to realization using a simple working prototype. We met a number of challenges least of which was the financial constraints. Indeed, for the conceptual model, we had to rely a lot on common reusable items that we were able to find or purchase at the instituion.
We also found that for this particular product, which involved quite a bit of mechanical and electrical fabrication, redundancies are always important. To cater for the unexpected is something that can’t be left to chance. While the demonstration was certainly successful, it took a lot of energy, redesigning and iterative testing using different components to finally make it work.
Did you have any guidance or a role model that helped you along the way in executing this project from just an initial idea you had.
There was plenty of guidance in terms of desalinator-related material available. The thing about desalination is that it is not a new process and a number of hobbyists in other parts of the world have made their own home-made desalinators for their own use. These proved invaluable in tackling mathematical calculations as to the design and fabrication of various aspects of the desalinator.
To the hobbyists and these individuals i.e. our supervisors and friends, we owe a great debt of gratitude.
What advice can you give to fellow students (and African youths in general) out there having big ideas, but no clue on how to begin implementing it.
To those young innovators, you have to start from somewhere. No one ever had all the answers. Action that idea that seems very vague and far.
“Take a leap of faith! Begin now from the little known and eventually the rest will fall in place.”
“It only takes a spark, something to start the dream, the passion, the Journey: The journey to your fullest potential! So never give up on your dreams!”