Solar Distiller Prototyping

This year we are trying to find solutions for purifying the contaminated well water in El 20, and we are building a solar distiller prototype which is based on Henry Glogau’s design. Henry is a New Zealand architect working at GXN, the green innovation unit of 3XN architecture firm in Denmark. He is a graduate of the Royal Danish Academy, where he specialized in Architecture and Extreme Environments. He has designed an award-winning portable solar distiller, which is light and easy to deploy. He also developed instructions for constructing the distiller with more accessible and local materials.

We reached out to Henry in hopes of talking more about his solar distiller design. We got a chance to have a video call with him before our field trip to Mexico. It was great to discuss different material and design possibilities with him. It was inspiring to hear about his design process and also discuss about the social aspects of design.

Aalto team meeting with designer Henry Glogau.

Solar distillers can be used for water purification and are powered by solar energy. In Henry’s design the bottom tarp is filled with contaminated water. The bottom is attached to the top tarp made of clear plastic film, which allows the solar radiation to pass through and heat up the contaminated water. Since the tarp structure is airtight, the heated water evaporates inside the tarps and the water vapor condensates on to the inner surface of the plastic film. From there, the purified water droplets flow to the lower point collection vessel. In our prototype the collection vessel is a plastic bottle which acts as a funnel.

The first version of the solar distiller prototype based on Henry Glogau’s design.

We had a lot of fun building the prototype and trying to find solutions to problems that emerged along the way. First we had to choose which materials to use for our version of the solar distiller. After that we planned the number of corners we will have on the tarp structure and the correct number of support sticks that it will need. We then decided how the tarps need to be cut and attached them together with a sewing machine. We also tested different seals to prevent leakage from the bottom tarp. The portable version of the design hasn’t been tested properly, so our aim is to see how it works in a real-life setting in rural Mexico. We did some initial testing with the prototype in lab conditions in Finland using warm water and a heating halogen lamp. However, the conditions we created were far from the actual conditions in El 20. Next we are off to go on our field trip and test it in the field in real conditions! Our aim is to continue developing the design after more testing.

– Sonja, Mikaela, Ella, & Pragati


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