Elemental Water Makers produces fresh water from the sea, sun, earth and wind

Elemental Water Makers combines the elements to produce fresh drinking water from seawater.

Their solution: combining reverse osmosis with wind- & solar-energy and still manage to guarantee a 24/7 rate of operation mandatory for this type of desalination. How this is achieved remains classified. However, their solution doesn’t depend on batteries normally used to compensate for periods without sun (night time, clouds) or (strong) wind. In addition, Elemental Water Makers have achieved with their solution a cost advantage of up to 50% over its direct –fully renewables powered- desalinating competitors.

With 2.5% of all of earth’s water being fresh, and of which only 0.3% is easily accessible, the need for desalination is obvious. Reverse osmosis desalination removes salt from salt-water by forcing it through a membrane under very high pressure, demanding large amounts of energy. Over 0.4% (yes this is a lot) of the world’s entire electricity supply is used for the sole purpose of desalinating salt water, indicating the necessity for a better solution. The problem: reverse osmosis demands a continuous operation, even when energy from wind and solar is unavailable. Traditional systems rely on fossil fuels to achieve this. Existing reverse osmosis systems utilizing renewable energy however, depend on–expensive- batteries to secure and maintain a continuous operation. The team of Elemental Water Makers (EWM) came up with the solution.

Laying the Foundations

EWM was created in 2012 as a result of an award winning thesis project of the two founders, friends, and now full-time entrepreneurs: Sid Vollebregt & Reinoud Feenstra. During their shared project they came up with the working principle behind the EWM technology. This was shortly after proven and tested during a related study project they both were working on in Indonesia. The business plan was written down, and with it EWM entered, and ended up winning several innovation and business competitions such as: New Venture, Cofely, Imtech, Veolia, KNW, and AimfortheMoon, and perhaps more importantly, gotten awarded both the STW Valorization grant (25k€) as well as the stage 1 (10k€), 2 (25k€), and 3 (50k€) Climate-KIC Acceleration Programme funds.

The Desalination of brackish groundwater or seawater has become an important source of fresh water, with a total global desalination capacity of 65 million m3 per day. The global desalination capacity is equivalent to 0.6% of the global water supply. However, this also accounts for 75.2 TWh of the global electricity consumption, showing the energy intensity of the process. Today, a quarter of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity. By 2025 it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will face moderate or severe water shortages, which the EWM solution can help resolve while limiting fossil fuel dependency.

Land ahoy!

Through a feasibility study, financed by the STW VG1 and a Climate-KIC acceleration grant, the EWM team identified the scarce- and high cost- locations for fresh water and fossil fuels of islands as an ideal beachhead market. Island communities often cope with high prices for fossil fuels –and thus electricity- due to expensive diesel transportation to the island. This inherently increases the attractiveness of renewables due to the shorter payback time on investment. On top of this, island communities tend to prefer renewables due to the energy independence (islands…) they provide and generally greener image (palm trees anyone?). EWM focused their activities on regions which satisfied these criteria which resulted in the lock-down of its first customer at the Virgin Islands.

As of December 2014 EWM is the owner of a signed contract to deliver a complete, full-scale, reverse osmosis desalination system powered entirely by solar energy. The system will produce 12.500 L fresh water every day, which will be used by the hotel resorts for purposes, such as showers, swimming pools, bathing and land irrigation. EWM was given the green light and has commenced manufacturing and shipment of materials to the Virgin Islands. Mark your calendars; expected date of first operation: as early as the start of the summer 2015.

Got to keep on Moving

Such is with every good story there are a few hurdles to overcome; For EWM these hurdles came in the form of permits. Having entered the final stage of negotiations with a customer -prior to the Virgin Islands deal- EWM was shut-down by government. It turned out EWM was to become such a large supplier of fresh water, the existing fresh water supplier forced its contract and deterred EWM market entry based on concessions made with government prior to the arrival of EWM… thanks for the lesson.

From there the EWM team haven’t stopped working and are now further exploring other ‘warm’ market opportunities at locations such as: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Mallorca, Ibiza, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, Saba, Cape Verde, the American Virgin Islands, and all the potentially suitable locations in between! To put it in these words: Elemental Water Makers, soon to a location near you!

Contact details

For more information refer to the company’s website www.elementalwatermakers.com or contact co-founder Sid Vollebregt directly by sending a mail to:

Sid Vollebregt
Molengraaffsingel 12, 2629JD Delft, the Netherlands
+31 629 294 357