First solar-driven desalination plant by Elemental Water Makers up and running on Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands are the first to use a new renewable energy driven desalination solution that turns seawater into fresh water, developed by Dutch clean tech company Elemental Water Makers. The solution provides 3300 gallons of fresh water from seawater on a daily basis since July, while using only power from the sun. Elemental Water Makers therewith provides an alternative for a reliable supply of fresh water at lower costs, while simultaneously avoiding carbon dioxide emissions. Through a real-time monitoring portal, the water production and solar energy used on the Virgin Islands can be watched online from anywhere around the world.

Increasing fresh water scarcity and limited availability of fossil fuels demand new solutions using sustainable energy. “With unlimited availability of seawater and increasing renewable energy opportunities, desalination using renewable energy seems like the obvious solution”, says managing director Sid Vollebregt. “But there were barriers for implementation of these methods until now.”

“The commonly used and most energy efficient technology of reverse osmosis is designed for constant operation, while renewable energies such as the sun and wind fluctuate over time. As a result of the required use of batteries or operating discontinuously, existing alternatives are expensive. Elemental Water Makers solves this problem”, explains Vollebregt.

The young company from the Netherlands, founded by two engineers from the Technical University of Delft and part of incubator YES!Delft, constantly converts seawater using only fluctuating renewable energy source(s). “A constant reverse osmosis process is enabled by using the power of gravity through a salt water buffer installed at a higher level of elevation”, says Vollebregt. “The pressurized seawater directly flows to the reverse osmosis membranes. The elevation level required is greatly reduced by re-using the excess pressure in the salt water flow, making use of a mechanical form of energy recovery.”

Vollebregt reflects on the importance of their first desalination plant on the Virgin Islands. “We are very pleased to have reached this next important milestone for our company which shows that we can solve fresh water scarcity, using only the sea, sun, earth and wind. There’s much interest from resorts and private household owners in the surroundings, who we will now be able to physically demonstrate the system to and have them feel and taste the water. We are also discussing to arrange the water supply of an entire village with the municipality in Cape Verde, which we expect to install later this year.” Significant costs savings are realized by avoiding electricity consumption, batteries, energy conversion losses and frequent maintenance. The solution is scalable from a few thousand gallons of water per day up to a scale of a million.’

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Sid Vollebregt (left) and Reinoud Feenstra (right)founders of Elemental Water Makers at the solar panels of the installation on Great Camanoe
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The desalination system of Elemental Water Makers