Beth Koigi and her partners started a company that uses an unexploited resource that could be the answer to water scarcity
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
When Beth Koigi joined Chuka University in 2010, she was happy that she would get away from the cold in her home village, Kimende in the outskirts of Nyahururu town.
However, she noticed that access to clean drinking water in campus was a problem and had to frequently visit hospitals because of waterborne-related complications. Saddened by this situation, but too broke to afford a water purification system, she decided to come up with her own water filter.
“My aim was to produce a water filter for my own use. Surprisingly, when the students learnt about my innovation they were interested and asked me to make more filters for them,” she says.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in community development, Beth decided to start a social initiative and registered her organisation, Aqua Clean whose aim was to develop water filters and make them available to women through micro-finance schemes.
“Since most of the readily available filters were costing not less than Sh3,500, I wanted to come up with a cost-effective system. Our filters were going for Sh1,000 each,” she says.
After working with the organisation for four years she was not satisfied with the results after realising that not all families could afford water filtering systems. This was because in arid and semi-arid areas even getting dirty water was a hustle and this is when she decided to think out of the box.
Even though she didn’t work on any idea immediately, last year’s drought made her to think even harder. The sales were low and she felt that in future Kenya will be a water scarce country because of climate change.
One day when she was doing her research she discovered that there is six times as much water in the air as in the rivers in the world. This gave her an idea of harvesting water from the atmosphere, but she didn’t know how to do it. “Initially, I didn’t know about atmospheric water generator, but when I came across this idea, I fell in love with it and decided to give it a try,” she says.
With her idea she applied for the Global Solutions Programme that saw her join the Singularity University at the Silicon Valley in the US where she met her partners, Clare Sewell and Anastasia Kaschenko and Majik Water Technologies Ltd was born.
They decided to make a device that could harvest water from the atmosphere after realising that the available machines were expensive and consume a lot of electricity, with a 400 litres capacity machine going for not less than Sh100,000 ($1,000).
“We have developed a prototype that harvests 10 litres of water in 24 hours in relative humidity of 55 per cent. It uses solar thermal energy and silica gel that makes it possible to get water at a low cost, in an energy-efficient way since our main target is off-grid communities,” she reveals.
And how does it work? She says that once the air is pulled into the device using a solar-powered fan, the desiccants (spong- like material with higher affinity for water molecule) absorbs water droplets from the air before it is exposed to heat to release the moisture as water vapour.
The water vapour is then condensed into water and filtered with activated carbon before it is stored in a tank and accessed via a gravity-fed tap system, which does not require a motor.
“The desiccants we are using don’t react with anything and it doesn’t contaminate water. Also it is readily available and it works in low humidity of up to 35 per cent,” she says. The device could provide a problem to the world’s water crisis
The UN estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will face absolute water shortage around the world. In Kenya, 12 million people do not have access to adequate clean drinking water.