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Solarball portable solar device creates drinkable water

By Damir Beciri
7 Comments22 March 2011

solarball-1One out of eight people in our world don’t have access to drinking water, causing nearly eighty percent of sickness and disease in developing regions. By harnessing the power of the sun, a Monash University graduate has designed Solarball – a simple, sustainable and affordable water-purification device, which has the potential to help eliminate disease and save lives.

Developed as Jonathan Liow’s final year project during his Bachelor of Industrial Design, the Solarball provides up to 3 liters of drinkable water per day. The spherical unit absorbs sunlight and causes dirty water contained inside to evaporate. As evaporation occurs, contaminants are separated from the water, generating drinkable condensation. The condensation is collected and stored, ready for drinking.

Liow’s design was driven by a need to help the 900 million people around the world who lack access to safe drinking water. Over two million children die annually from preventable causes, triggered largely by contaminated water. It is an increasing problem in developing nations due to rapid urbanization and population growth.

“After visiting Cambodia in 2008, and seeing the immense lack of everyday products we take for granted, I was inspired to use my design skills to help others”, said Liow.

Although it is not the first kind of product which utilizes the process of evaporation to create drinkable condensation, the Solarball uses this common process in a unique way by combining efficiency and simplicity of user interface and design. The spherical shape is able to capture light and heat from all 360 degrees, and its compact form ensures that heat is collected and stored within the capsule as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Solarball does this through collecting and storing heat, causing evaporation of contaminated water to occur. The formed condensation on the roof of the ball is collected and it is purified up to 90%, thus creating drinkable water. The Solarball materials are fully recyclable, and have a long lifespan given daily exposure to harsh conditions. It is made out of materials which comply with food and water safety standards, and is designed taking the intended user environment into consideration.

“The challenge was coming up with a way to make the device more efficient than other products available, without making it too complicated, expensive, or technical”, said Liow.

As we mentioned, aside efficiency the Solaball design has been given a great attention for details in order to make it practicable and simple. The product also takes into consideration communicating to people of different cultures by using colors and symbols used of neutral ground, thus making them easily understood by people from various countries and cultures.

Solarball has been named as a finalist in the 2011 Australian Design Awards – James Dyson Award. It will also be exhibited at the Milan International Design Fair (Salone Internazionale del Mobile) in April 2011.

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7 Comments — Leave your response!

  • Avatar

    Though the system seems to be innovative,it is not effective. The dome will have scratches which lessens solar insolation. The article says,” The formed condensation on the roof of the ball is collected and it is purified up to 90%, thus creating drinkable water. “. This is not enough.
    There is SODIS method practiced by many. I refined it to improve the efficiency and designed an Innovative system which will be a boon in developing countries.

    Here are details:
    Safe Drinking for All through Solar Disinfection
    by Dr. Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Every 8 seconds, a child dies from water related disease around the globe. 50% of people in developing countries suffer from one or more water-related diseases. 80% of diseases in the developing countries are caused by contaminated water. Providing safe drinking water to the people has been a major challenge for Governments in developing countries. Conventional technologies used to disinfect water are: ozonation, chlorination and artificial UV radiation. These technologies require sophisticated equipment, are capital intensive and require skilled operators .Boiling water requires about 1 kg of wood/liter of water which results in deforestation in developing countries. Also halazone or calcium hypochlorite tablets or solutions (sodium hypochlorite at 1 to 2 drops per liter) are used to disinfect drinking water. These methods are environmentally unsound or hygienically unsafe when performed by a layperson. Misuse of sodium hypochlorite solution poses a safety hazard .
    Treatment to control waterborne microbial contaminants by exposure to sunlight in clear vessels that allows the combined germicidal effects of both UV radiation and heat has been developed and put into practice .The SODIS system(Solar Disinfection of water) developed by scientists at the Swiss Federal Agency for Environmental Science and Technology(EAWAG) recommends placing PET bottles (usually discarded mineral water/beverage bottles) painted black on one side, aerating (oxygenating) the water by vigorous shaking three fourths water filled bottles and then filling them full and placing them in sunlight for 6 hours. In this method, the water is exposed to UV radiation in sunlight, primarily UV-A and it becomes heated; both effects contribute to the inactivation of water borne microbes. The use of PET bottles requires periodic replacement because of scratches and they become deformed if temperature exceeds 650C. Also dust accumulates on these bottles in the groves (provided for strength). The PET bottle mineral water manufacturers print on the label, ‘crush the bottle after use’ in India. Unless cleaned thoroughly everyday, PET bottles turn brown over usage rendering lesser transmission of sunlight.
    Microorganisms are heat sensitive. Table 1 lists up the required temperature to eliminate microorganisms within 1,6 or 60 minutes. It can be seen that it is not required to boil the water in order to kill 99.9% of the microorganisms. Heating up water to 50 – 60C (122 – 140F) for one hour has the same effect.
    The most favorable region for solar disinfection lies between latitudes 150 N/S and 35 0 N/S. These semi-arid regions are characterised by high solar radiation and limited cloud coverage and rainfall (3000 hours sunshine per year).The second most favorable region lies between the equator and latitude 15 0 N/S, the scattered radiation in this region is quite high (2500 hours sunshine per year).
    The need for a low-cost, low maintenance and effective disinfection system for providing safe drinking water is paramount, especially for the developing countries.
    Materials And Methods
    The innovative solar disinfection system has a wooden frame of length 2 ft,width 1 foot and depth 6 inches with bottom sinusoidal shaped polished stainless steel (curvature slightly larger than standard glass wine bottles, about 5 inches diameter) . On the front is fixed a glass sheet having lifting arrangement with a knob (this glass enclosure will protect the glass bottles from cooling down due to outside wind). There are screws which can be used to keep the contents airtight. On the backside a stand is fixed which will help the unit to be placed according to the latitude of the place for maximum solar insolation.
    In this method clear glass bottles (used wine bottles) are utilised instead of PET bottles as the former are easy to clean, lasts longer and are available at a low cost in India. Solar disinfection is more efficient in water containing high levels of oxygen; sunlight produces highly reactive forms of oxygen (oxygen free radicals and hydrogen peroxides) in the water. These reactive forms of oxygen kill the microorganisms. Aeration of water is achieved by shaking the 3/4 water filled bottles for about 20 seconds before they are filled completely.
    The unit has an advantage in that the rear reflection stainless steel will pass the light through the bottles a second time, to both increase exposure and eliminate shadowing. This reflection system will increase the light intensity minimum 2 times.
    It has been widely experimented and established by earlier researchers that at temperature of 50C (122F), pathogenic microbes are inactivated. The temperatures which cause approximately a 1-log decrease in viability with 1 min are 55C (131F) for protozoan cysts; 60C (140F) for E.coli, enteric bacteria, and rotavirus; and 65C (149F)for hepatitis A virus .Negar Safapour and Robert H.Metcalf in their extensive studies reported enhancement of solar water pasteurization with reflectors and the crucial role of temperature above 50C (122F) in the elimination of pathogens.
    The unit is placed in the south direction (in India) around 10 am with inclination equal to the latitude of the place. The glass bottles are filled with water three fourths and shaken for 20 seconds to generate oxygen and then completely filled. The water filled bottles are fixed with caps and put in the groves of the solar disinfection unit. The glass door is closed and clipped airtight. Water bottles are removed from the unit at 3 pm and taken to a cool place and the disinfected water transferred to a clean vessel, covered for later usage.
    Suspended particles in the water reduce the penetration of solar radiation into the water and protect microorganisms from being irradiated. Solar disinfection requires relatively clear water with a turbidity less than 30 NTU.To remove turbidity traditional methods of putting the paste from seed of strichnos potatorum (Nirmal seeds) by rubbing the seed on a rough stone with water is used. The method is effective, turbidity settles down in half ofv an hour and the seed are available in plenty in forests in India besides being inexpensive.
    Sample Testing
    Water samples from the solar disinfection unit were tested with Most Probable Number (MPN) technique. To estimate the number of aerobic organisms present in water, Pour Plate Technique has been used.
    The test results of various water samples disinfected are presented in Table 2. In the samples from Ambattur Bore Water, Ambattur Well Water, Anna Nagar Bore Water and Kavaraipettai Bore Water, since they are highly contaminated, further dilutions were not carried out. The dilution should be done only when the MPN indicates more than 1100 organisms/100 ml. For these samples only log reductions can be calculated. As regards R.S.M.Nagar Bore Water and Thathai Manji Well Water, the percentage of reduction are 85 and 86.95, which indicates that the water is less contaminated. As MPN index shows less than 3 organisms for 100 ml, after solar disinfection of water, the samples are free from coli forms. The results of Avadi Waste Water and Perambur Waste Water show 3 log reduction (99.8%) and 4 log reduction (99.993%) respectively.
    For comparison PET and Glass bottles were placed with black background as well as in the innovative device I developed. It can be readily seen that solar disinfection of water is complete with the device compared to open.
    Eradication of coli forms from well water, bore water and waste water has been reported from test results. The results confirm that there is 4-log 10 reduction of coli forms in the waste water after solar disinfection..Maximum temperature occurs around 1 pm. Though 6 bottles were used in the system(each of 1 liter capacity),larger units with up to 100 bottles can be designed. The unit destroyed 99.99% of bacterial coli forms both in well water and waste water samples in 5 hours.
    The innovative solar disinfection system has the advantages like:
    1. The unit is portable,
    2. It is cost-effective.
    3. It can be fabricated in South India for US $20.
    4. The unit incorporates the principle of reflection to increase solar intensity and has protection from wind which results in temperature rise inside the unit,
    5. Larger units can be manufactured, Used glass bottles withstand higher temperatures and are available in plenty each for 2 US cents in South India, Since all the materials are available locally, the unit can be manufactured locally with local people.
    6. Temperatures above 30 degrees C occur in south India for more than 10 months in a year and as such this innovative solar disinfection unit will be a boon in this region.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  • Avatar
    Stephan Christiaans


    I read your article about heating water using the sun to kill of pathogens. It is simple and cheap, but it doesn’t remove anything from the water, so it can still contain all kinds of pollutants. And of course heating the water won’t make seawater potable.

    I built a device that purifies any kind of non-potable water (seawater, river water) by solar radiation. It is very simple and very cost effective:

    One panel measuring 1m x 2m x 6cm produces 1 litre of pure, potable water in one hour of sunshine (in Holland, using Dutch sun-power!). You put the dirty water in a container on top of the panel. The clean water comes out at the bottom of the panel. As simple as that.

    The cost of building one panel (Dutch store prices): approx. 40 Euro.
    The cost of building one panel wholesale prices: approx. 15-20 Euro.

    The device doesn’t wear down. You just need to clean it after a month of use.

    I am not selling these things. This is no spam! I invented this thing and I hope to be able to help people with it. My dream is to someday mass-produce these cheap and effective desalination panels and make the dessert bloom.

    I am really looking forward to receive a reaction. I am very enthusiastic about my device and I am sure other people will be once they hear about it and see it is real.

    Stephan Christiaans
    from The Netherlands

  • Avatar

    Im a student of poornima college of engineering. I’m making a project on solar water disalination.to complete my project i’m want some materials that is used in solarball.like plastik,semi-permiable-membrane.
    can you tell me where i can get these materials and in whats prices????

    my projects is different but process is same as solarball.
    please reply
    thank you,
    with regards
    lokesh sharma

  • Avatar
    Donald from Den Helder

    If someone can get one of these solar balls to “play” with, how about trying to improve output by, A: pre-heating the contaminated feed water in one of those black plastic bag \”solar showers\”that you can buy in any camp store, and B : floating a layer of charcoal on the surface of the contaminated water in the solar ball.
    note the use of charcoal in a solar still isn’t my own idea. some gentlemen in I think India have done this before, although not in the solar ball.
    Pre heating water for a solar still has also been done, but not as far as I know in a plastic solar shower. These would be a cheap, easy improvements if they increase output.

    Reg. Donald from Den Helder

  • Avatar

    Can you peole let me know contact details of “Stephan Christiaans”, who has prepared water purifier based on Solar Power.

    This can be used to provide potable drinking water to POOR PEOPLE OF INDIA, LiVING BY THE SIDE OF SEA AND RIVER.



  • Avatar
    kholood samman

    dear sir,
    I have read your rich information about the solar ball you invented.Actually my daughter has a project under name “solar ball”. She has to build it up and she needs help from you to know what are the specific materials she has to use.Actually , I need your help to know the material if you dont mind.
    I will be gratefull to your agreemant.

  • Avatar
    Emily Pavey

    I REALLY need to know the cost for this, for one of my assignments!!!!!

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