Ordinary water filters are, however, not a solution to three of the world’s gravest environmental and societal problems, but there exists a special filter capable of doing this: Nanomaji. The name might sound Japanese to some but it is actually made of the words of ‘nano’, derived from the nanomaterial used in the filter, and ‘maji’, the Swahili word for water.
Nanomaji was designed for developing markets where it is not the only proposed filter solution. The crucial difference that sets it apart from other products is that instead of membrane, the filter uses nanomaterial. No additional resources or devices are necessary to push the water through the filter. All that is needed is gravity.
A hodgepodge of academic disciplines and nationalities
Nanomaji was born in a school project at Aalto University in cooperation with the Finnish company Ahlstrom, which provided the material and challenged the 11 students to come up with a product for developing markets.
The team members hail from Finland, Brazil, Latvia, Taiwan, China and Mexico and they study in a variety of different fields such as design, chemistry, environmental engineering and sustainable business. The diversity and the size of the team have proved to be an asset rather than a disadvantage.
“We have some really creative people that can just come up with crazy ideas and then we have some who can implement those crazy ideas. That’s why we had no major difficulties,” says Sanna Puhakainen.
A filter takes on environmental problems
The inspiration for the filter came from filter systems used in hiking. However, the existing water filter systems are not compatible with the everyday lives of the people in developing countries where often a jerry can is used to store water.
To find out more, the students went to Tanzania where they brainstormed with the locals to design a water filter that fits their needs and lifestyle the best.
In Tanzania and other developing countries, water must be boiled before it can be consumed and burning charcoal is the most common way to do it. This has resulted in severe air pollution and deforestation. Nanomaji is supposed to alleviate the environmental consequences by rendering boiling water redundant.
The filter is small and versatile and can be attached to jerry cans and to big water tanks alike. It is also cheaper for the users: families in Tanzania spend currently 2.5 euros per week on charcoal while a Nanomaji filter costs only 1.6 euros per week and lasts a month. The price gap is likely to widen in the future due to the anticipated increase in the price of charcoal.
Eyeing the future that lies ahead
A lack of attention is certainly nothing the students need to be afraid of. They prevailed in the Finnish round of the Climate Launchpad competition which they saw as an opportunity to promote their invention. Some investors have already expressed interest in the product and also within Ahlstrom the product has been met with benevolent curiosity.
Now the school project is slated to transform into a promising cleantech company. Eight of the former group members are still on board and the tasks for the next months are research and improving the filter’s design.
Nanomaji’s makers are already eyeing the future that lies ahead. Tanzania is the stepping stone that will keep the team busy for the next years but its neighbouring countries are already in sight.
Text: Tim Linka