Eliodomestico © Gabriele Diamanti 2011
Eliodomestico © Gabriele Diamanti 2011

Q&A: Inventor of one of the greatest inventions of 2012, the Eliodomestico

Potable drinking water has been a reason for despair in several parts of the world. In India, the conditions aren’t better; the concerns are all the more grave and worrying, especially with families living in areas that are frequent to droughts. Families living in such areas around the globe, spend most of their lives, in the search of a basic commodity, Water! An easy solution is desperately needed.

A solution that is inexpensive, helps recycle used water and also makes it potable for consumption is a dire need. Have you come across such a device?

Italian designer Gabriele Diamanti, inventor of the Eliodomestico, an eco-distiller running on solar power, rightfully deserves to be called one of the greatest inventors of 2012 [Time magazine’s 50 greatest inventions]

We at Ek Titli.Org bring to you an exclusive interview with Gabriele Diamanti, whose brilliant design acumen and thirst to bring change may hopefully transform the lives of the desperate. And did we mention, the Eliodomestico is open source!

What is the problem you intend to solve and what inspired you to create such a product?

Many people in the developing countries don’t have access to adequate and inexpensive supplies of potable water. This leads to population concentration around existing water supplies, marginal health conditions, and low standard of living. By 2025, 2/3rd of the world population will lack sufficient fresh water. The areas with the severest water shortages in the world are the regions with the most intense solar radiation, that’s why desalination seems to be a realistic hope for them.

Starting from this statement, I decided to develop a better solution for solar water distillation. My education as an industrial designer pushed myself to analyze the existing solutions and to innovate by improving the usability and the functionality, which were actually very poor in the existing solutions.

Considering that it took you 8 years to invent this concept, what were the challenges faced by you?

Gabriele Diamanti, inventor of the Eliodomestico
Gabriele Diamanti, inventor of the Eliodomestico

Actually it didn’t take me 8 years: I started in 2005 as a graduation project, but in 2007 I stopped the development because I was working for a big design studio in Milano and I didn’t have much time for this project. I re-started the process of development in 2011. So it was around 4 years for development.

I developed Eliodomestico in different prototypes, from the very simple upside-down coffee maker made at home, to the big clay pot. I made indoor tests using halogen lamps and outdoor tests carried out in the Mediterranean. The current device suffers from efficiency loss when the climate is windy and humid. I’m now building the last improved version that will solve the problem completely. It will be very similar and will be ready by end of summer 2013.

I had to face many challenges during the development, but the biggest one is the funding. So far, I developed the project in my free (unpaid) time, trying to win some international competition (Core77 design award, Prix Emile Hermès, Buckminsterfueller challenge, and many others) in order to finance the prototypes and the development. One positive thing about the competitions is that I received many feedbacks from people all over the world (and I would like to say thank you to everyone), with suggestions on how to improve the efficiency, or how to modify the project for a specific context.

How does the Eliodomestico work?

Made just from terracotta and zinc-plated metal sheet, the device produces 5 litres of drinking water daily (every square metre of irradiated surface), through a direct solar-powered distillation process. Compared to traditional solar stills (equal to the surface irradiated by the sun), Eliodomestico is more efficient and more usable. Eliodomestico is designed to function without filters nor electricity, and requires minimal maintenance. Made from readily available materials, and poor traditional technologies, the system has no environmental impact, and delivers positive outcomes for local economies, because it’s designed to be produced (and eventually repaired) by local craftsmen.

The project is conceived like an household: it works autonomously during the day, just in front of people’s houses. Its design is inspired from archetypal forms and materials, because it has to be highly recognizable: as a matter of facts, one of the biggest problems in delivering technologies to the developing countries, is that usually the people don’t understand them. This kind of design is a good way to solve this problem.

The distiller is very easy to use: in the morning simply fill the water tank with salty or dirty water from a local source, and in the evening collect clean, evaporated and re-condensed water in a portable recipient placed underneath the tank. The water is distilled, hence small quantities of salt can be added for enhanced health benefits.

How it works

Could you share your views on its utmost importance and why is it a need of the hour?

Well, the problem of water scarcity is a huge one. It will cause the biggest wars in the coming future.

I don’t really think that a single designer can change the world, but many people working together on a good idea could make a difference. That’s why I licensed my project under a creative commons license.

The market has various products addressing potable water, what is the uniqueness in your product

The direct competitor of Eliodomestico is the classic basin still. It has been developed around 150 years ago, but it suffers from many problems:

  • If it’s built as an extensive water-treatment plant (digging big holes in the ground and covering them with plastic film), it’s very difficult to maintain and clean. When the installation is left to the local communities, it deteriorates because it belongs to none. It’s not a solution that could make people independent in the long term.
  • If it’s built as a family-sized device, it produces a mere 3 liters/sqm (while Eliodomestico produces 6 to 9 lts/sqm), having a cost of around USD 150 (while Eliodomestico costs around USD 75). If it gets broken, it’s very hard and expensive to fix, because it employs plastics and glass (expensive and difficult to find).
  • The classic basin still doesn’t take into account the usability and the cultural problems of introducing such a device in a community. Moreover, it doesn’t help the local economy to grow, because it’s an industrial product.

There are many more alternatives, like reverse-osmosis filters or parabolic concentrators, but they always need a source of electricity to work, and are too expensive for a single rural family.

An Eliodomestico costs between US$50 and US$100, depending on the materials used © Gabriele Diamanti 2011
An Eliodomestico costs between US$50 and US$100, depending on the materials used © Gabriele Diamanti 2011

Can Eliodomestico be scaled to provide larger quantities of water?

It can be scaled, but not that much. I would say it can be scaled up to 2 times its production rate. Beyond this the best and economical way to scale the production is to multiply the number of units. Anyway the main concept of Eliodomestico is that it’s a home appliance. It has to be a family device: this is the best way to guarantee a long-term efficiency, through the direct responsibility of its users.

It’s Open Source and targeted to areas where water is scarce or not easily attainable. Can an individual living in such an area make this on his/er own or would they require a particular skill set?

You just need to find a potter (or some craftsman able to build the structure using also wood, bamboo, concrete, or any other insulating material). This part is the easiest, and in many cases it can be carried out by the individuals. You also have to find a good craftsman that could be able to build the metal parts. This is very important, but it’s also true that the basic metal technology (like tin-welding or metal sheet soldering) is very wide-spread around the world.

What are the approximate costs to make a Eliodomestico?

The production cost is estimated between US$50 and US$100, depending on the materials you use.

To know more & support his initiative, visit Gabriele’s website or follow him on twitter @gabdiamanti. To reach him, contact:
Melloni, 36 20129
Phone: +39 334 8718624

Check Also

James balog

Q&A with acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog & director Jeff Orlowski on their award winning documentary

In 2005 acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic to capture images to help tell the story of Earth’s changing climate. Having been somewhat skeptical about climate change he discovers undeniable evidence of our changing planet. This set him on an arduous and life-threatening task to prove it not only to the world, but to himself! His movie, Chasing Ice, depicts a heroic photojournalist on a mission to deliver fragile hope to our carbon powered planet. The movie has won numerous awards and was also shortlisted for the Academy Awards.