In a world where water is one of the most abundant resources, how is it possible that roughly 663 million people are without access to clean drinking water? New Zealander, and 2021 Lexus Design Award Finalist Henry Glogau, has developed a multi-purpose, low-cost desalination system, overhead light, and energy storage system.
With seawater funneled directly into an ornate fixture, solar energy is used to separate the salt from the water, creating a pool of water that can be accessed through a tap on the fixture, while brine contained in the system to later be used as a battery to power a low-energy light.
Why does this matter?
Water insecurity is a problem plaguing much of the world. With 663 million people having no access to clean drinking water, a low-cost solution to provide a basic resource can significantly uplift the quality of life in many coastal regions of the world.
- A cheap, efficient, scalable solution to clean water access can mitigate illness and death for millions.
- Provides a basic proof of concept for industrial desalination processes using direct solar energy to evaporate water from salt. Because desalination requires a significant amount of energy, any pathway to cheaper desalination is crucial for scaling up industrial processes and clean water access even for communities that have access to pure sources.
- Desalination is a well-practiced technology but requires significant amounts of energy to heat and treat water. As seen in the reverse osmosis process, high-capacity facilities utilized various membranes to filter impurities from water is both material and energy-intensive. Reducing reliance on intense processes in favor of more efficient, cheaper processes using solar distillation (be it in the form of direct heat or power from photovoltaic cells) can further scale the desalination industry.
- Increased utilization of brine, either for industrial processes or for further water extraction, will be necessary to maximize the potential and downstream economics of desalination systems.
Glogau’s solution, while simple in design, can have tremendous impacts globally. From a humanitarian perspective, coastal countries with fresh-water scarce populations benefit greatly from this technology. However, it also shows that significant improvements can be made in the industry.
With water now traded as a commodity in the wake of climate change, innovation in the sector will be crucial to maintain an affordable global water supply. More advancement in the vertical is necessary, and desalination will play a vital role in the human ecosystem.
About The Author
Impact Investment Fellow
Matt is an Impact Investment Fellow with Vectors Angels as a part of the organization’s sustainability team. While most disciplined in power generation and energy storage, Matt takes on a wide array of technologies in the sector.
Leveraging these skills, Matt works with early-stage startups on fundraising and go-to-market strategies, understanding their market, and competitor due diligence.
Matt holds a BS in Finance and Economics from Boston College and an MEng from Boston University in Materials Science & Engineering. Matt’s graduate research and passion focused on the impact fundraising mechanisms and financial institutions have on the success of startups in the renewable energy and cleantech industries. His current interests involve developing new financial instruments to fund demo and pilot “tough tech” projects and closing the commercialization gap.