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An H-shaped key to the problems of the third world

Watly technology harnesses solar energy to produce electricity, clean wastewater and sea water and provide internet connectivity. Marco A. Attisani discusses this ground-breaking device and how EU funding has helped bring it one step closer to the market.

With the SME Instrument, Horizon 2020 helps the EU’s most creative SMEs turn their ambitious concepts and prototypes into commercially-successful products. Watly is one of the first companies to have benefitted from this helping hand. Its technology combining water purification, solar energy production, Wi-Fi connectivity and crowdfunding for people in need is, according to its inventors, set to revolutionise the world as we know it. Modern society may well rely on electricity, easy access to water and connectivity, but these are still considered as a luxury in many parts of the world. The three aspects are also closely intertwined: The poorest populations largely live in regions with little to no access to water and very precarious infrastructure. These regions, like Africa, South America and some parts of Asia, are heavily affected by the consequences of climate change despite being left behind in the industrialisation process that caused it, while their most abundant resource, the sun, remains underexploited. Founded in 2013, Watly’s merit lies in its innovative approach. Instead of considering each of the above-mentioned problems individually, Watly founder Marco A. Attisani and his team assembled them like pieces of a puzzle, which once completed will ultimately result in a long-term, sustainable form of equality and well-being for a growing world population. Their work has resulted in the development of a technology capable of harnessing solar energy not only to produce electricity, but also to clean wastewater and sea water and to provide users with powerful internet connectivity. The prototype device, which has just benefitted from a feasibility study thanks to EU funding under phase 1 of the SME Instrument under the WATLY (An autonomous and mobile water treatment plant powered by solar energy) project, will eventually become available in 2016 through both traditional sales and crowdfunding. How did you come up with the idea of combining Wi-Fi, water treatment and solar energy all in the same device? These are the basic needs of modern civilisation and we simply could not design a modern solution without integrating these three elements. Some critics tell us that our technology lacks focus and that we should limit Watly’s capabilities to cleaning water or producing electricity alone. This kind of criticism is absolutely inconsistent with actual technological possibilities. Would you ask your smartphone manufacturer to make a phone that only has a keypad for calling or another that just has a camera for taking photos and shooting videos? I doubt it. If a mobile phone can do 1 000 things, why limit a machine to weighing 10 tons and being 35 m long? Watly provides multiple services because each one is closely related to the other. We also do not compete with water filtration systems or off-grid electricity generators. We created a new technological paradigm, and this is just the beginning. Additional features will follow. What’s the market reception so far? There is a huge interest from potential customers around the world, ranging from the public sector, schools and hospitals, to big corporations and NGOs. We have been in contact with some African governments that are budgeting large investments to resolve their water and electricity issues, with prestigious Indian representatives and with the Indian army. The Middle East will also be an extremely interesting market for us, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Over there, money is not an issue, the sun shines 360 days a year and ocean water is everywhere. Watly can transform their arid landscapes into fertile lands and smart cities, so I would not be surprised if our first customers come from this part of the world. We also target big corporations and NGOs for sponsoring: we can increase the overall impact of the social corporate responsibility campaigns of private companies, or help foundations to raise funds in a more transparent and efficient way. What we envision for Watly is a future of exponential growth identical to digital companies. What is Watly-L? Where do you stand with its development? Watly-L was the initial name we were using for the bigger version of Watly. It was a 40-foot arch-shaped machine. We have not completely abandoned the idea, but for the moment, we have steered away from the previous design and opted for the modular ‘H’ shaped version. But a new line of products with outstanding performance and unconventional design is coming. Can you tell us more about the Lively app concept? Lively is the software running on the hardware of Watly. In order to raise money for charity, organisations promote various crowdfunding philanthropic models such as micro-lending, micro-volunteering and micro-donating. But something very important is still missing: the ‘heartfelt’ contentment which can only be derived from knowing objectively and immediately that, with our last donation, we have helped a specific person who was in need. With Lively, international philanthropists and donors can do just that: we directly convert donations into clean water and free electricity, and you can select the community or person you wish to donate to and engage with him/her in real time through live images and videos. With a simple click, you transfer a credit (through a secured system) to the person in need. He/she will then be able to ‘download’ clean water or free electricity instantaneously. It provides for a profound emotional experience with an assurance that the money goes directly to the person you have chosen. Lively also provides profile information about your favourite beneficiaries, anticipates trends in their water and electricity consumption, and provides updates on the wellbeing of the person you care for. Now that you have completed phase 1 of EU funding under the SME Instrument, what are the next steps? Do you intend to apply for phase 2 funding? Creating the next big thing in Europe is not easy, with investors not being as bold as their fellows in the USA. But we have this great tool called the SME Instrument, which is really making a huge difference in boosting innovation. Horizon 2020 is a great opportunity for innovative European companies, and I really want to congratulate the people who believed in it and actually made it possible. We have already applied for phase 2 and we are really looking forward to our proposal being accepted. If successful, we will do our best to ensure that Watly becomes the next big thing! How does the wastewater treatment process take place exactly, and how does it compare to existing technologies? Watly’s purification process works exclusively on solar energy and is based on the physical principle of vapour compression distillation. The quality of the water purified by Watly is outstanding: absolutely pure, low mineralisation and with a perfect pH balance (6.8 – 7.2). Watly efficiently desalinates ocean water and eliminates all pathogens and microorganisms from previously polluted water, including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and cysts. It removes inorganic compounds as well as poisons. It purifies water from any organic compounds and liquid contents of latrines and even purifies radioactive water without the need for membrane or filter substitutions. Vapour compression distillation is by far the most effective and powerful method of water purification and desalination available, and we combine it with thermal engines designed and engineered to achieve an outstanding level of efficiency — 97 % compared to 30–70 % for standard methods. Last but not least, Watly is scalable: one Watly is a stand-alone machine but two or more Watlys become an intelligent network. We call it the ‘Energynet’, a smart grid where water and electricity fuse together with information technology. You applied for H2020 funding to pursue a feasibility study. What are your conclusions? By protecting the benefits of few from the misery of many, our society produces energy at the expense of the planet we live on. But our economy based on fossil fuels is collapsing. What we need is a new economic paradigm that can take us into a sustainable future, and there is one thing that can take us there: the sun. Considering that 40 minutes of solar irradiation equals the annual energy consumption of the world population, I really think we should stop drilling the earth and start looking at the sky instead. There is a huge market for those entrepreneurs and investors willing to take a step forward. We are talking about trillions of euros and a market that covers Africa, the Middle East, a significant part of Asia and South America. These potential markets can be addressed with different business models, from pure sales of hardware to sole provision of services, but our feasibility study ended up with a straightforward conclusion: we are amongst the pioneers and very few first movers of the third Industrial Revolution. For this very reason, we might as well soon become the leaders of this market. When do you expect Watly to be commercialised? We will be ready to go to market with Watly’s definitive version by the first quarter of 2016. For further information, please visit: WATLY



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