Create potable water in the desert

Alumnus Emad Khatibzadeh’s story

Emad so can you image

You’re parched with thirst and looking for a glass of water. You open the tap and... nothing. Oh that’s right - you’ve forgotten that the water is temporarily shut off. A while later, you go to wipe down the table and you can’t. Need to use the toilet? You’ll just have to wait! We’ve all experienced it when the water mains are temporarily shut off and still you keep trying to use the tap. We’re so used to dispensing water whenever we like, it’s hard to come to terms when it doesn’t work.

Yet in many places, having clean drinking water is not to be taken for granted. Mechanical Engineering graduate Emad Khatibzadeh, wants to ensure that as many people as possible, all around the globe, have access to clean potable water. And he’s well on his way, thanks to a new desalination technique. It turns salt water and dirty water into clean, fresh water you can drink. He even ventured to the Mali desert to test his system first-hand.

I know what it’s like to go without water

Will your new system resolve water shortages once and for all?

“It’s a great system that will allow us to help a great many people. With the support of THUAS, I was able (via my start-up) to develop a water purification system for brackish water. Our system relies on positively and negatively charged poles - just like magnets. This makes it possible to filter positively and negatively charged particles, such as sodium and chloride, out of a liquid using a membrane. The result: clean, potable water.”

That sounds great, but hasn’t something similar already been invented?

“Not like this. The advantage is that this system uses less electricity. It’s cheaper and results in less wastewater. The system is about the size of a coffeemaker, so it’s easy to carry with you. At the same time, you can link together multiple systems, making it suitable for use in agriculture as well.”

170417JV1089Sounds good. Is there much demand for such a product?

“Millions of people lack access to clean drinking water. Those living in small villages in India, for instance, or refugee camps and conflict zones. Large portions of Africa could benefit too, for example, Ethiopia has been in the news a lot lately. We tested it in the desert in Mali, along with the Ministry of Defence and former Minister Joris Voorhoeve, who is supervising the project.”

Wow, that’s cool.  

“Yeah, I thought so too. I never imagined my life would be like this. In 2010, I arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee from Iran. I’d studied mechanical engineering back home and I decided to repeat the study programme as a way to get to know my new country. That’s how I ended up at a university of applied sciences. Attending THUAS helped me learn Dutch and find my place in society.”

Does your fascination with water have anything to do with your homeland? 

“I know what it’s like to go without water. In Iran, it was business as usual if our water was temporarily shut off every few days. We were prepared for that, of course, and made sure we always had jerry cans of water ready. Things don’t get rough until the shutoff goes on for too long. Say it lasts even longer, or you’re trying to grow wheat. These are serious problems.”

It’s my dream to make a difference

So you had a dream...

“I want to do something good for the world. It’s my personal dream to make a difference, to help people. And water is vital to people everywhere. I want to continue developing, researching and designing. To come up with new water-related concepts for the agricultural sector. And my message for prospective students? Follow your dream.”


“THUAS is open to hearing students’ own ideas. If you have a good plan that will benefit the Earth or people’s lives, you’ll have a chance to work on it. That’s how I started - at THUAS and with my own water engineering company.”

The photos of Emad in Mali were taken by Jasper Verolme as requested by the Ministry of Defence.