By William Janssen
On a quiet afternoon in Abu Dhabi, William was sitting behind his desk and almost fell off his chair. It was a true eureka moment. Having been toying with the idea of solar collectors and desalination in his head for a while, suddenly all the pieces fell into place. PV insulated plate collector, boiler vessel, heat exchange; couldn’t it be that simple?
From this idea to a real business would prove to be a completely different challenge and that journey started with the first question: was the idea actually new and original? Had anyone come up with this concept before? Was it already patented and would it actually work? So many questions, and no answers.
After some planning William set out to assemble a Proof of Principle device in his living room. With some raised eyebrows from his wife, but actually a lot of encouraging support, William built a first attempt of at a Desolenator. With a small PV panel, some glazing, tubing and finally a small boiler with a spiral heating element, all the components were in place.
It required several sessions in the blazing sun and quite a few tweaks, but after three months of effort, the first droplets of distilled water were harvested: a major achievement and a great feeling of triumph.
The next job would be to apply for a patent and write the findings down in a Proof of Principle report. Then investors would surely start knocking on the door … right?
It remained eerily quiet and apart from the paperwork coming back from the patent bureau nothing much happened. So William started to make many inquiries with potential partners, investors and users about the idea and the potential uses. This journey is often called the valley of death and armed with a slideshow and a lot of enthusiasm, it was indeed a long journey.A simple phone call would be the next step. William’s cousin, who happens to be a patent lawyer, had two pieces of advice: “Don’t tell anyone else and search the online patent databanks.” The search was easily conducted and it turned out that no similar idea has been filed for patent yet in the US nor Europe. That was encouraging news, so the next step would then have to be about the practicality of idea; would the concept actually work?
It turned out to be very quiet in the valley. The patent was received and many agencies showed great interest in the idea and its potential, but finding someone willing to make a commitment proved very complicated indeed. Some fellow entrepreneurs came with many different suggestions and advice, but it all yielded little result; so little that momentum was being lost.
Then a friend introduced William to Innovation Experience (iX) and Alexei Levene in Kerala, India. With India being a potential market and with iX having the support of the local university, it seemed that the project was now really gathering some speed. But alas this was slightly too optimistic, because the process of getting an academic quality, working prototype into place proved to be much more challenging than previously thought.
Then finally attempt number four (!) yielded a properly working prototype with the correct assembly to create success – and drinkable water. This was, however, seriously delayed by the longest monsoon imaginable; in Kerala it starts raining in June and apart from a small sunny window in September it continues until November. But the weather was not going to stop Desolenator. Sunshine was found and testing was completed. Visitors were invited and all treated to a lovely glass of pure drinking water.
In the meantime others had heard about the effort being made in Kerala and in Europe the Desolenator team was invited to participate in the EU’s ClimateKIC initiative; participation in the CleanLaunchpad competition, winning the second prize and a place at the Imperial College London start-up incubator.
With these recent achievements, Desolenator now has to follow through and turn the prototype into a production model. But product development costs money; planning, design, procurement, tooling and moulding plus the cost of assembly and logistics. To achieve these goals, Desolenator is on crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com.
Please help us to build on our success until Desolenator can become a widespread reality. Join us today!