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World Water Day: 5 RCA designers tackling the global water crisis

Water Scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030 according to the UN. So how can design mitigate the crisis? This World Water Day we’re exploring projects by RCA designers tackling this increasingly urgent global problem.

Across our School of Design’s MA programmes and with the support of our start-up incubator InnovationRCA, students and graduates are emerging with ideas to supply water to vulnerable isolated communities and drastically reduce the water consumed in the production of materials.

1. LooWatt, Virginia Gardiner (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering, 2008)

Women standing beside LooWatt toilet outside

Loowatt is a revolutionary waterless toilet system that transforms waste into methane gas for cooking and heating. Initially supported by InnovationRCA, the start-up went on to secure a $1 Million Grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Loowatt first came about as a degree project from our 2008 MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering graduate, Virginia Gardiner. Founded in the same year, Loowatt has already helped communities from Madagascar, to the Philippines to the USA with access to water free sanitation. 

Their innovative system uses a dry liner, and a storage and distribution system that takes the waste to an anaerobic digester, transforming it into gas which is bottled or used to power an electrical generator. 

2. Deploy Tech, Paul Mendiata (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering, 2020)

Deploy Tech Concrete Water Tank inflated
Deploy Tech

Over two billion people currently lack access to safely managed drinking water. One of our latest InnovationRCA start-ups, has designed a solution to help these vulnerable communities. Deploy Tech founded by our 2020 MA Innovation Design Engineering graduate, Paul Mendiata have developed the first-ever air-deployed, ready-to-use concrete water tank.

‘This piece of infrastructure was designed for those who are defenseless and yet cannot access life’s most basic need.’ Paul Mendiata
Paul Mendiata

Each Deploy tank can supply communities of up to 2,000 people. And with a water capacity of 4,000 litres, they can extinguish almost four football fields of intense fire.

Paul wants his product to help rural communities fighting wildfires with access to affordable, transportable and sustainable water storage. ‘This piece of infrastructure was designed for those who are defenseless and yet cannot access life’s most basic need.’

Deploy’s patent-pending technology provides a time and cost-effective water storage for communities in need. After manufacturing, the tanks can be folded up and packed away to be relocated anywhere in the world.

3. Giovanni Dipilato, (MA Design Products, 2019–2021)

Reef structure by Giovanni Dipilato
Reef, Giovanni Dipilato

Oysters can filter up to 230 litres of water a day, providing a natural filtration system for water sources. Unfortunately the natural ecosystem of these creatures is often destroyed by water pollution. Reef from our Pokémon Scholar and MA Design Products student Giovanni Dipilato is a ‘a cheap design solution; made by blending zero-waste materials and eco-compatible ones’ that aims to restore oysters' natural ecosystem – by providing the perfect place for oysters to multiply.

Made in collaboration with Blue Marine Foundation, Reef uses oyster shell scraps from restaurants to make a calcium carbonate cement. The cement is used to construct the reef where oyster larvae can grow, restoring the biodiversity of our waterways and drastically reducing water pollution.

4. SaltyCo (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering, 2019)

SaltyCo started as a final project by our 2019 MA Innovation Design Engineering graduates; Julian Ellis-Brown, Antonia Jara Contreras, Finlay Duncan and Neloufar Tehari. They make freshwater free fabrics from plants grown in the sea, providing sustainable alternatives to water intensive cotton. 

‘It takes 1200 litres of water to produce a single cotton sock’ SaltyCo Team
SaltyCo Team

Last year, they picked up several industry awards – including a €50,000 prize from Vogue Yoox Challenge – The Future of Responsible Fashion and funding from Future Fashion Factory. Insulation for jackets, t-shirts, trousers and faux leather can all be made from the materials they are developing replacing more water intensive materials. ‘It takes 1200 litres of water to produce a single cotton sock’ the team told us. 

They are now working towards their first product launch – a halophyte-based alternative to goose-down or synthetic fillers – keep your eye out this Autumn/Winter for their first collaboration!

SaltyCo Plant Fibres
SaltyCo Plant Fibres

5. S.A.M., Seetharaman Subramanian (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design student)

S. A. M. (Smart Acoustic Monitoring) from Seetharaman Subramanian
S. A. M. (Smart Acoustic Monitoring)

Data gathering is increasingly driving design interventions in global crises. S.A.M. (Smart Acoustic Monitoring) from our MA/MSc Global Innovation Design student, Seetharaman Subramanian harnesses the capability of data by tracking daily water usage in domestic settings to inform designers’ working towards sustainability solutions.

S.A.M. can estimate the volume of water being consumed from the sound made as it comes out of the tap and hits surfaces using a machine learning algorithm that detects specific events. The data gathered can then be used to track overall consumption.

‘I want environmentally sustainable behaviours to take root in this fertile soil before we all eagerly go back to our previous habits.’ Seetharaman Subramanian
Seetharaman Subramanian

Seetharaman was inspired in the early months of the pandemic to gear his design practice towards resource consumption in domestic settings as people started working from home. ‘I want environmentally sustainable behaviours to take root in this fertile soil before we all go back to our previous habits.’

Want to learn more about how design innovation can tackle global crises? Find out about postgraduate programmes offered by our School of Design.