Desalination of sea water, by means of solar energy in Tumaco is an initiative that participated in the 2016 RECON contest, which uses solar energy to desalinate seawater, by means of a distillation process to obtain drinking water in an easy, economical and ecological way. This project was carried out on a pilot scale in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño; where they obtained excellent results both in volume and in water quality. Now the idea is to establish this great innovative project on a larger scale. RECON has learned about the work done by Julio César Enríquez, leader of the initiative who is Social Entrepreneur of the Week; know his story:
RECON: Who is Julio Cesar?
Julio Cesar: I am a citizen of Pasto, an engineer in aquaculture production. Master in environmental engineering, dedicated to teaching. I spent 5 years in Tumaco where I found many problems, one of them is the lack of drinking water, the aqueduct has precarious conditions and it is difficult to find water suitable for human consumption. I found an advantage and that is that they have solar energy.
I am passionate about the environmental part, the care of the planet and its conservation, I like to raise awareness about the importance of protecting all natural resources, in essence that is me, an environmentalist, who is fighting every day to change our way to think and act in front of nature.
REC: How and why does desalination arise, initiative with which you participated in RECON 2016?
JC: The idea of looking for a more economical way of obtaining water for communities that live on the seashore and do not have the liquid for their consumption arose, so I focused my research project towards that purpose.
There are communities not only in Tumaco but throughout the Pacific coast where it is very expensive to get drinking water despite living by the sea; they have outdated systems, such as collecting rainwater, but in general do not have access to drinking water.
Seeing the need related to my expertise I found an opportunity for the project, it was difficult, many modifications were made, there is little research in Colombia and I managed
to land the idea of how to obtain drinking water economically and I found a solution in the distillation, a very old system used by boaters, optimized it to see how it heated the water and took advantage of the sun’s path to obtain drinking water.
The distiller is economical, it is built with inexpensive materials and from the area. Because the communities are of low resources. We used economic wood that is adopted to make it durable.
REC: Did you draft the project alone or with someone’s support?
JC: It was my idea, I looked for resources from several entities, but it was negative, I did not get support, and that is what I presented to the mayor of Tumaco and they never supported it. I only support Ecomar, which is where I carry out the project and assemble the structure. I must thank them for lending the space and because they had some workers who were indirectly involved, they helped me with installation, care of the equipment, also when analyzing data and they were very important for the development of the project.
REC: How much is solar equipment worth?
JC: Each distiller costs $ 45,000, but this varies according to the size and size of the distillate that you want to achieve.
The dimensions of the distillers used are 80 cm x 60 cm and 40 cm high in the highest part. The price includes the wood, glass and channel that are required to carry out the process.
REC: How much drinking water does a distiller produce as used in the project?
JC: It is producing from 4 liters to 4.5 liters per square meter per day. It is important to keep in mind that it depends on the sun, the hours between 10 am and 2 pm, are the 4 most functional hours of the sun, because before this time the sun serves for preheating and slow distillation because the rays are not perpendicular.
It is also important to bear in mind that, if I have a larger area, I will have better catch and produce more drinking water.
REC: How does the system work?
JC: First the water is placed in a collector, in my case 6 liters, it is sealed with a glass, it is placed towards the sun, that is done through a software called ecosol to locate the coordinates and exact trajectory so that it is accurate.
The system heats up, water molecules begin to be released by means of evaporation, the gas rises and reaches the glass cover and begins to condense and then distils. That steam is free of salt (sodium chloride) as 99.5%, those drops begin to distil, fall by gravity and are collected by means of a channel, and that channel goes to plastic bottles to collect it.
REC: Is distilled or produced water drinkable or does it require another procedure?
JC: That water is drinkable, but when the research was done we did not know it, it was sent to the laboratory for analysis, yielding good results, it is an exclusive water for consumption, it is a slow process and its use must be optimized.
The water can be improved through a filter, but it does not mean that it is not drinkable.
REC: What is done with the waste from the process?
JC: What is left over is a water with a concentration of sodium chloride higher than the initial one. There are companies interested in buying this for industrial production.
It is not necessary to return it to the sea, but the disposal of these wastes has a protocol so as not to impact the marine ecosystems negatively or alter them.
REC: How can the system be improved?
JC: Add solar panels to the system so that it heats up faster and has more evaporation.
REC: What has been achieved with this system?
JC: First, take advantage of solar energy for the benefit of the community to solve a basic need such as access to drinking water.
In the same way, reach out to the people of the community and demonstrate that by means of much effort and dedication, you can do things and solve social problems.
REC: What’s next for the system and what do you dream will happen?
JC: I dream of having a solar desalination plant in Tumaco, it does not exist, it is the first research done in Nariño of this type.
That the families of the coast, have their solar distiller and have some houses with roof distillers, that serve as a roof and serve to distill the drinking water.
REC: Have you thought about the system as a business model?
JC: Yes, I dream of getting a portable distiller, with all its parts, on the market. And have a plant to sell the liquid, at low cost and drinkable.
REC: How do you define social entrepreneurship?
JC: It is to use your abilities for the benefit of society, humanity. Think of others with solutions that with effort and dedication can be achieved.
For each problem there is a solution you have to be inspired and put your heart into it.
REC . What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
JC: That they be very curious, that they investigate, investigate. Each community has its problems and I think that curiosity can somehow solve them, that they do not stop, that they dream and that they dare.
At first it is difficult, but everything is a process and that’s all because of curiosity.
REC: What was the use of participating in RECON?
JC: It helped me because, even if I do not win, it is a platform to promote and make things known. This platform is a very nice surprise that showed me that I leave a mark and that there is an interest because it goes ahead, that is motivation not to stop and continue going forward.
REC: What is missing from the system or the project to keep moving forward?
JC: Although the project obtains drinking water from seawater using solar energy, it would be very appropriate to have a storage center or an area where the water is analyzed and a desalination plant is available to support the water service.
One or two Mechatronic Engineers that contribute to the optimization of solar distillation system, for example, creating a mechanical system that performs the sun’s movement for better utilization of solar energy system desalinization.
One or two environmental engineers that contribute to water analysis and study the impacts that can be generated in a macro system.
Operators or technicians who are in charge of handling the equipment and elements necessary for the operation of the system.
And ideal personnel in marketing, business administration, economists, among others.