On May 26 in Brussels, an international jury presented the National Energy Globe Award 2007 to BMW Group designer Stephan Augustin for his invention of the so called Watercone, a device for generating clean drinking water. Guests at the awards ceremony included Mikhail Gorbachev, José Manuel Barroso, and Kofi Annan.

The Watercone is a solar-powered cone-shaped desalinator that generates fresh drinking water from salt or brackish water. With its rigid outer skin, this plastic cone can be used floating on water or on damp ground. The sunrays shining on the Watercone cause the water to evaporate under the cone and condense on the inside of the cone. The droplets of water then accumulate in a collector trough. The water can then easily be poured out of the opening at the tip of the Watercone into a container or drunk directly. The water is purified through the condensation as if it were undergoing a single-stage distillation process.

Mobile device for producing drinking water

Simple and effective

Around 1.6 litres of drinking water a day can be obtained by using this invention. This means that the Watercone could play a major part in solving a number of problems: UNICEF experts estimate that 5,000 children still die each day from diarrheal diseases caused by dirty drinking water. Using the Watercone, people living in coastal regions in Africa, Asia, and South America can also obtain drinking water from sea water. In addition, this device also eliminates heavy metals and other pollutants when used near rivers.

The Watercone is made from hard-wearing, unbreakable Bayer Makrolon polycarbonate with an anti-UV coating and has a guaranteed working life of at least five years. Stephan Augustin came up with the functional design on the basis of practical specifications: Tests in the BMW wind tunnel showed that the Watercone can cope with wind speeds of up to 55 km/h without any problems. This means that it is largely unaffected by weather.

Positive results of pilot project in Yemen

CARE Deutschland carried out a pilot project in the coastal town of Zinjibar in Yemen, where it generally rains only three times a year. Consequently, the fishermen have to travel into the interior, sometimes up to 15 km, to find clean drinking water even though they live right by the sea. CARE handed out 100 Watercones to ten fishermen's families. The water quality produced was analysed by TÜV in Germany and found to be perfect. The people in the village went one further: they said the drinking water from the Watercone tasted better than bottled water.

A dazzling idea on the beach

Augustin, an industrial designer, came up with the idea of the Watercone on holiday on the Canaries. As he looked across the sea, he brooded about how to convert the rich stocks of sea water in the oceans into a daily ration of drinking water. "I wanted to use my professional knowledge and my experience to offer people who suffer from water shortage a humanitarian service in the form of a practical design", says Augustin. His new partner, the Water Management Department of Tinox® GmbH in Munich, Germany, will be starting mass production of the Watercone later in 2008.

Sustainable growth in the BMW Group
According to its sustainable development strategy, the BMW Group has also made the responsible use of water a permanent practice in its worldwide production network: by consistently using closed water cycles, the amount of water used per vehicle produced could be cut by 35% over the last five years. Since the beginning of 2007, the BMW Group's engine plant in Steyr reuses all waste water from the production process. This world's first waste-water-free production plant saves around 30 million litres of water a year.