This tiny solar-powered factory cleans up dirty water

The world’s first completely solar-powered beverage micro-factory started its journey in the spring of 2020, when Swedish startup Wayout International waved its container-sized machine goodbye from the port of Norrköping, south of Stockholm. 

With shipping options already radically reduced by Covid-19, the micro-factory set out across the Baltic, Atlantic and Mediterranean seas, via the Suez Canal, stopping by Saudi Arabia, India and Sri Lanka, landing at last in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. From there, it went by truck by the developing rural scenery, over the Ngorongoro crater wall at 2,640 metres above sea level, across the great Namiri plains and up to the Mara river. It’s a big change of scene from a noisy industrial site in Sweden to a peaceful eco-tourism camp in northern Serengeti.

It had taken Wayout 18 months to go from idea to complete product. The consequence is a module that converts sunshine and local groundwater into pristine, potable water – and which can also produce premium craft beer and soft drinks. A single module puts out 150,000 litres of clean, remineralised water per month and lets whoever operates it serve up to eight different types of drinks by the integrated tap stop. The micro-factory is offered for lease and the fully automated beverage production is done via a desktop app letting the local operator – and Wayout, in Stockholm – monitor and control the time of action remotely. The system in the Serengeti is powered by a 110 kWp solar field with the energy stored in 2,000Ah OPzS batteries.

In the Serengeti, water is abundant, but not fit for drinking. The natural mineral content is extreme, making it corrosive to teeth and internal organs, and the rare ecosystem – including the famous “great migration” of wildebeest – makes the living soil busy with bacterial processes. That is why the micro-factory takes its source water from a local groundwater bore hole and filters it by an progressive integrated treatment system that removes all impurities before remineralising it for optimal taste and quality.

“It started out as a fun project between friends, at a moment when craft beer and micro-brewing was a thing,” says Martin Renck, one of Wayout’s three founders. The first system was developed to be used in the hospitality industry and by major breweries and beverage brands that seek to produce locally and sustainably. As the trio started pitching the concept to prospective clients, they hadn’t realised how urgent the issue of water purification was. “When we listened to the feedback we got – not just in Africa but from all around the warm regions of the planet – it became clear that it was the mineral water that was the really exceptional thing. We realised we not only had a commercial opportunity, but also a greater mission to take on,” Renck says.

Martin Renck, co-founder of Wayout. Originally conceived as a way to easily create craft beer, the technology’s ability to produce clean drinking water from virtually any source has proved to be its greatest and most impactful innovation

Photography Christopher Hunt

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