The Sustainability Prize


The 2017 Sustainability Prizewinners were Jhoselyn Dayhana Mendoza Lozano and Kalem García Abad for their project: “Green energy-powered desalinization of drinking water.” The project involved a design for a home desalinization system that runs on coconut waste instead of fossil fuels. Please enjoy this short interview with the prizewinners:

Why did you decide on this project?

We were looking for a topic related to water, because it is one of the principal problems worldwide. This coincided with the earthquake in our home country of Ecuador in April 2016, which affected the coastal areas. The largest problem the people in the region were having after the disaster was access to clean, fresh water for consumption.

We knew a little bit about this problem because one of us, Jhoselyn, is from this area. Kalem also remembers being at the beach and seeing signs that said, “save water, it is limited.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence which says a lot!

Yaku Thani (Quechua for “healthy water”) was developed to provide a solution to this problem, with the design of a system to desalinate seawater using clean energy. Desalinization is a technique that already exists, but it currently uses conventional energy, which emits CO2 and contributes to climate change.

Through Yaku Thani, we proposed a method for creating clean water without negatively affecting the environment, using a gasification technique for the production of syngas, a clean gas, and using coconut fiber waste as energy.

Jhoselyn and Kalem performing trials with materials used for gasification.

How was your solution fitted to the specifics of the region? How might it be adapted for other regions?

It’s important to say that just 2.5% of the world’s water supply is fresh water and the rest is in the sea. What’s more, the underground wells which provide freshwater have salinized over the years, creating even more scarcity.

The coastal region of Ecuador, but also many other coastal regions worldwide, has all the necessary ingredients to make the project work: a large quantity of salt water, and the biomass required for the gasification process (in the form of coconut husks).

The system would be useful for water issues in other regions, but the purpose might change. In other regions, it might be a way to purify the water that comes from the tap. The source of biomass could also be swapped out for materials that are more prevalent in different areas, but for that we would need further trials to see which works best with our system.

The Yaku Thani desalinization system

How did The Lab’s sustainability principles inform the way you designed this project?  

We knew we wanted to design the desalinization system, but The Lab’s sustainability principles helped us connect this aim to a higher, more interconnected purpose. With the Yaku Thani machine, we want to provide more than just water, we want to provide security. We want to ensure coastal families will have a good life, in harmony with the environment: reusing local waste, while cheapening the cost and lowering the barriers to clean water.

What is next for Yaku Thani? What and how are you trying to improve?

During the process, we had evidence that our desalinization system works, but we will have to purify and improve the quality of the water. The seawater near the coast is contaminated by human activity—a problem that also affects the largest desalination companies, who must take measures to ensure the quality and safety of the water.

There are techniques in existence for water purification, and we already have ideas about how to build this into our system and produce clean water on a medium-scale. Our main barrier at the moment is that we are currently living far away from one another while we work at different companies, building experience in our respective fields. We look forward to working on this project in the future!

Kalem (left) and Jhoselyn (right) presenting the project last year

For more information about the project, please see the prizewinner page on this website.

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