In­no­va­tion: The so­lar-pow­ered Watly can bring pu­ri­fied wa­ter (plus Wi-fi!) to any­where on earth

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents - - Nick Leiber

“This is the fu­ture of wa­ter man­age­ment and elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion. It’s pro­duc­tion close to con­sump­tion”

Form and func­tion

Watly, a 15-ton, 130-foot-long com­puter, uses en­ergy from 80 so­lar mod­ules to pu­rify wa­ter, pro­vide wire­less cov­er­age, and power or charge other de­vices. Its in­ven­tors say it can meet these daily needs for about 3,000 peo­ple.

In­no­va­tor Marco At­ti­sani

Age 44

Founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Watly, a 10-em­ployee startup in Udine, Italy


At­ti­sani, an MBA who also stud­ied elec­tron­ics, was born into poverty in Brasilia and adopted by Ital­ians when he was 11. He started de­vel­op­ing Watly in 2013, look­ing to ad­dress in­fra­struc­ture prob­lems by com­bin­ing ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy in new ways.


Watly has raised about €2 mil­lion ($2.26 mil­lion) from gov­ern­ment grants and pri­vate in­vestors.


At­ti­sani says he plans to sell the first ma­chine for €500,000 to €1 mil­lion to a telecom com­pany or sim­i­lar util­ity.


When it’s not sunny, bat­ter­ies pro­vide three days’ worth of power for Wi-fi and charg­ing but not enough for the wa­ter pu­ri­fier.

1. Wa­ter

Watly’s so­lar-pow­ered pumps can draw about 1,300 gal­lons of dirty wa­ter a day through a tanks-and-pipes sys­tem that uses heat, graphene, and other ma­te­ri­als to re­move con­tam­i­nants, nor­mal­ize ph and min­eral lev­els, and store the clean wa­ter.

2. Power

The ma­chine’s re­mov­able bat­tery packs can charge 10 smart­phones in about an hour. Its telecommunications gear uses satel­lite or car­rier sig­nals to cre­ate a high­speed Wi-fi con­nec­tion that can han­dle hun­dreds of de­vices at once.

Next Steps

At­ti­sani says he’s work­ing to bring Watly’s price down as he re­fines a new model, due in July. He’s also work­ing on a wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion unit that’s one-tenth Watly’s size, which he plans to price at €20,000 or less. Rachida Justo, an en­trepreneur­ship pro­fes­sor at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid, says Watly’s po­ten­tial jus­ti­fies the up­front cost. “I see a lot of in­no­va­tion in just one ma­chine,” she says.

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