The student competition “TUM DeSal Challenge” at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany, invites students to build seawater desalination plants powered solely by renewable energies. Providing a sufficient supply of clean drinking water is problematic in many parts of the world, and the ideas of the young participants could be one step on the way to self-sufficient desalination plants for developing countries.
The jury has nominated 12 teams of participants to take part in the finals in Munich on June 17–18, 2016, where they will present their working desalination devices. The plants will be judged on the quality of the produced fresh water, but also on design, cost efficiency, ease of use, and innovation.
One of the finalist teams of the 2016 competition, Team “Solarpura”, talked to Catharina Goedecke for ChemViews Magazine about their motivation and their experience with the competition up to this point. The team’s members are all students at TUM, but have come together from different countries (pictured above from left to right): Felipe Díaz Bórquez from Chile, Peter Brailovsky Signoret from Mexico (team leader), Ismael Leitmannstetter from Germany, and Kevin Lemmer from the United States.
How did you learn about the competition?
Kevin Lemmer: Peter Brailovsky, our team leader, learned about it through a “Desalination” lecture he attended at the TUM Campus Garching and presented us with the opportunity of participating in the competition.
What motivated you to take part?
Ismael Leitmannstetter: My main motivation for participating in the challenge is the importance of finding innovative and affordable solutions for a global problem: hundreds of millions of people lack access to safe drinking water. In my point of view, it is a basic right for every human being to have access to clean water and adequate sanitation.
Peter Brailovsky Signoret: I knew about the high relevance of desalination technologies as a means of providing safe drinking water to people. I was surprised by the fact that most of the technological developments in this area required high-tech components. However, 79 % of the people without access to safe drinking water live in rural areas, where in many cases externally-sourced solutions fail when spare parts and highly qualified technicians are needed. I want to push forward this discussion among researchers, industrial designers, and developers to cause the focus to shift.
Kevin Lemmer: With an awareness of the many water scarcity issues facing the world, I wanted to learn more about solar desalination technologies. Also, to be in a challenge and work with my hands on a pilot plant provides the opportunity to push me out of my comfort zone and away from the computer.
How do you know each other?
Felipe Díaz Borquez: We have studied together for nearly two years in the Master program “Sustainable Resource Management” at TUM and we became good friends while we worked together on different projects.
Ismael Leitmannstetter: Knowing that my team members would participate motivated me even more to take part in the competition. In past study-related projects, I already had the chance to experience how skilled the others are and how diverse perspectives from different fields of study and different cultural backgrounds can contribute to an outstanding outcome.
You are designing and building a desalination plant. How did you learn about the topic?
Kevin Lemmer: I have learned about desalination through self-studying and writing a paper on implementing solar desalination in rural communities.
Felipe Díaz Borquez: My main sources of knowledge about desalination are a Water Management class and self-learning.
Ismael Leitmannstetter: I also learned about it in a Water Management class, and from the literature.
Peter Brailovsky Signoret: I mainly learned about desalination in a lecture I attended at the Department of Thermodynamics of the TUM.
How long did it take you to prepare your application?
Felipe Díaz Borquez: Taking into consideration the time invested by Peter during his course on this topic, it took about one to two months to get it done from the idea to the finished application document.
How much time do you think you will have to spend on the competition until the finals?
Peter Brailovsky Signoret: Our preparation for the finals should take up to two or three full working weeks, but as we are working, doing internships, and writing our master theses in parallel, the workload will be distributed over the next months.
Without giving away too much, can you tell us what concept your desalination plant is based on?
Ismael Leitmannstetter: The main idea is to build a humidification-dehumidification plant (HDH), which utilizes passive solar energy in conjunction with waste heat from wood-burning stoves. We are aiming to provide isolated communities in water-scarce coastal regions with a solution that could be easy to build and simple to maintain.
What is the next step in the competition for you?
Felipe Díaz Borquez: Start building the HDH unit and fine-tune the inner workings of the plant.
What is the greatest challenge you are facing at this point?
Kevin Lemmer: Time and coordinating schedules. We are all finishing up our Master’s studies, which means different things for all of us. Whether beginning our theses, working a job, or starting internships, we will need to balance our time, coordinate our efforts, and support each other as best as possible. Not to mention being there for our families, wives, and girlfriends.
Thank you for the interview and good luck in the competition!
On June 17–18, 2016, the jury will decide if this team or one of the other eleven finalists has developed the best desalination plant. ChemViews Magazine will report the results.
Also of Interest
- Competition to Design Energy Self-sufficient Desalination Plants,
ChemViews Mag. 2013.
19 years old winner of the TUM DeSal Challenge talks about the challenges of developing and building his very successful desalination plant
- Videos introducing the competitors in the 2011 TUM DeSal Challenge
- Building Desalination Plants with DeSal Organizer A. Kroiß,
ChemViews Mag. 2011.
Alex Kroiß, organizer of the DeSal Challenge, Munich, Germany, discusses the event and what inspired him to get involved
- Desalination in the Rain: The 2011 TUM DeSal Challenge,
ChemViews Mag. 2011.
The DeSal Challenge at the Technical University Munich provided new ideas for desalination and much fresh water despite the rain