Who, What & Where

  • Infinite Fingers GmbH and MFT

  • Remotely Controlled Off-grid Water Desalination Plant Based on Reverse Osmosis

  • La Guajira (Colombia)

The Company

Infinite Fingers is a Germany-based company that offers monitoring and control solutions for off-grid and hybrid power systems with special focus in Lithium-Ion batteries management. Membran-Filtrations-Technik GmbH (MFT Cologne) is a medium sized company based in Cologne, Germany with over 20 years of experience in the design, building and operation/servicing of membrane-based water purification systems for fresh, drinking, salt, process and waste water.

The Challenge

 MFT Cologne and Infinite Fingers have led a project to develop and implement an innovative first pilot plant of a self-powered water desalination plant that is currently fully operational in a Colombian region called `La Guajira‘. Even though La Guajira is on the coast in the northeast of Colombia, it is a very dry area, and the local residents, many of whom are indigenous, are poor and suffer from a lack of clean drinking water. This pilot is the first of a number of systems that will be distributed throughout Colombia (and potentially in other countries too). It aims to show that an operating model can be established in which both the social and environmental impact of such projects is maximised, with a private and/or public finance model in place.

Renewable Solution

MFT Cologne and Infinite Fingers have developed a desalination system that produces up to 120 litres drinking water per hour from any sea water source (up to 20-metre depth water intake) based on reverse osmosis membranes. The required electrical energy will be provided solely from renewable energy consisting of wind power and solar panels and lithium ion battery storage in order to have the capacity to operate 24/7. The key feature is that this new technology can be 100% remotely controlled and monitored where all relevant parameters from both the energy system and the water plant are automatically uploaded into the “cloud”. From the cloud we can offer web-based or appbased data access to all interested parties and can even remotely access the system for upgrades and other active control features.

The ultimate benefit for consumers is to have clean drinking water with almost zero operating costs almost anywhere where only polluted water is available. Consumers also have complete peace of mind that the system will continue to offer trouble-free long-term operation, since an external service company will be providing preventive services. This first pilot unit has been donated to a school in La Guajira in collaboration with ‘Colenergy’, a local partner in Colombia. The companies trained local Colombian staff in Cologne and also provided further training for maintaining and troubleshooting the system at the installation site. Although only low maintenance is needed, it is the intention to ensure that the beneficiaries are ultimately autonomous and responsible for the long-term operation themselves.

Project Financing and Costs

In February 2016, the German government agreed to 50% co-fund a EUR 400,000 research and development project through KfW, to develop a new stand-alone technology with the purpose to desalinate sea water and to produce clean drinking water. As a proof of concept, with the pilot unit a business model based on bottled water sales to the community in gallons was also implemented, which will provide the school with an additional income. This model could potentially underpin these types of systems, allowing for not only a long-term social and environmental impact, but also the potential for an economic return on investment, depending on the financiers and the project framework.

Project Outcome

The “RO 100 Sea” system is currently operational and supplying hundreds of school kids and their families with clean drinking water. If the drinking water quality falls below a certain limit, the system switches off automatically to prevent unfit water from being supplied to consumers. The goal is to operate and to monitor a large number of decentralised, stand-alone and CO2 -free drinking water systems via a centralised, cloud-based platform, powered exclusively by renewable energy.

Many different applications of this pilot unit are possible. It will be possible to mix and to match different raw water qualities (sweet/ salt water) and different water output quantities. By adjusting power production and power usage, this system can easily be used for different purposes, such as water purification or micro water and energy grids that are fully accessible remotely.