The first Desolenator prototype emerged as a hobby in William’s living room, whilst he was working as a Project Manager in Abu Dhabi in 2012. A career spent working in water-scarce regions had sparked a desire to create a device that could produce drinking water in a sustainable way.
The idea of using solar power to turn seawater in drinking water seems like an obvious one – harnessing two abundant resources to create our life’s support system. However many technologies who have tried to make this work have struggled with low yields and frustrating setbacks.
This was no exception for William, who found that despite an engineering background, the yields from the early prototypes weren’t nearly as high as families would need if they were to rely on this for their drinking water. Then, one day in May 2012 , came the ‘Eureka moment’ that would transform his life, and turn Desolenator from a hobby into a global-impacting device. “It was the internal heat exchanger,” William explains, “it was the missing piece of the puzzle that would allow us to product the stronger yields that I had been trying for. Apparently I fell off my chair when it all came together…”
Having mentioned his invention to a friend, he was soon put in touch with Alexei Levene, a serial entrepreneur focused on socially-minded change, and who had his own workshop in Kerala, India. Soon on a plane to meet him, the Desolenator company was born over a few beers on a beach.
From there would come hard, hard work. Financing the project themselves, William and Alexei had to make several iterations and improvements of the units. They engaged enthusiastic students from the local university in Kerala, to test and optimize the devices, as well as having local residents to test the water it produced.
An early prototype:
Deciding that they wanted to build the company closer to home, Alexei and William relocated back to Europe in 2014. Soon after, they recruited Jiajun Cen, a Chemical Engineering PhD student at Imperial College, London to be CTO. At the same time, Desolenator won what was to be the first of many awards. Climate-KIC is Europe’s largest public-private partnership that focuses on innovate changes to adapt to climate change, and awarding 2nd place to Desolenator brought a EUR5,000 grant, but more importantly cemented the team’s belief that there really was need for this technology. Shortly after, the company did a crowd-fund online, securing support from regions as far flung as California and the South Pacific.
The next few years would be spent on technical development (although on a shoe-string budget), bringing in grants, early-stage market research and trying to secure investment.
Fast-forward to today, and the company has testing sites in Europe and the Middle East, patented technology, seed investment secured from a strategic partner, and built up a vast portfolio of awards across academic and commercial platforms. Technical recognition has come from organisations such as NASA, Shell Springboard, IChemE (a.k.a. ‘The Oscars of the Chemistry World’) and The Institute for Engineering and Technology, to name a few.
Other awards include Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace, Expo2020, Millenium Alliance and places on accelerators with Singularity University, Unreasonable Impact, Dubai Futures, Booking.com and What Design Can Do. These companies have all been drawn to Desolenator’s relentless optimism that, despite the size of the challenge ahead, we can make a dent in the global drinking water crisis.
And what does the team look like now? Based mainly in London and The Netherlands, but with the testing team in hotter climates, this merry band of 12 diligently navigates eternal flight schedules, time differences and accents to create a solid unit, driven by a singular mission of bringing Water Independence. Team bonding often includes cooking and eating elaborate meals together, usually with a Fleetwood Mac soundtrack in the background.
We’ve come a long way since that ‘Eureka moment’ in William’s living room, and are delighted that you have taken the time today to learn more about us. Please get in touch if you would like to hear more (firstname.lastname@example.org); global access to clean drinking water is a challenge that can only be tackled through strong partnerships.