How much water and energy do you use when you take a long, hot shower? Do you ever even think about it? Jason Selvarajan and his friends are working to reduce the environmental impact of showers with Showerloop, which cleans and recycles warm water so you can enjoy that shower while using only a tenth of the resources. And they’re doing it while embracing an open source ethos of collaboration.
Cleaning and Recycling Water in Real Time for a More Efficient Shower
The Showerloop product catches water in the drain of your shower, filters out debris and impurities, then kills bacteria using ultraviolet light before reheating the water and sending it through the shower head for another pass.
Selvarajan says that, by the time the recycled water reaches you in the shower, it actually exceeds many EU and U.S. standards for clean drinking water. Besides that, the system is designed to work as a retrofit for existing showers, which keeps it inexpensive and highly practical.
(To see the technical specifics of the system, take a look at Showerloop’s detailed Instructables page.)
From University Assignment to Open Source Product
Selvarajan, who lives outside Helsinki in his native Finland, first had the idea for Showerloop in 2009, when he was working on a class project about heat exchangers for a course in thermodynamics. As he explains it, “I kind of had this habit of never doing the assignments as they were given.” Selvarajan took the assignment in a new direction by working with friends to create a fictional product much like Showerloop. To maintain the pretense that it was a real product from Australia (where he had lived as a boy), he even built a Web site for it.
No one else in the class realized that it was fake, and many of them thought it was a good idea.
Looking back, the inventor slyly calls that class presentation “a really lean pitch with the first positive feedback that started this snowball.”
Since then, the idea has progressed through incremental steps across several years: business competitions at school; university thesis projects for Selvarajan and his collaborators Keiran Holland and Eduard Kobak; and participation in the POC21 sustainable innovation camp in 2015. (We talked about POC21 in our recent article about solar startup SunZilla.)
Selvarajan says that there was never a master plan to bring Showerloop this far. He simply found himself coming back to the idea. “At some point,” he explains, “we just started building it” with materials from the hardware store — and sometimes parts salvaged from the Dumpster.
Open Source Entrepreneurship
All along, Selvarajan has drawn upon his mindset as an entrepreneur, “both the do-it-yourself bit, and also in wanting to work for myself.” That approach has meshed beautifully with his commitment to open source principles.
His university training as an environmental engineer honed his technical skills, but he found bigger challenges once he started thinking of Showerloop as a real product. “It’s one thing to design something,” he says, “but another to figure out if it will work in the real world.” The process has taken much longer than he initially thought.
“It really helped me when I found the [Aalto] FabLab,” Selvarajan says. He’s been very comfortable in that Helsinki maker space, where he can share information and resources with his fellow inventors. By contrast, he’s never felt right wearing a suit in business settings: “They look great . . . it just wasn’t me.”
He laughs when he adds: “I like being this underground cave engineer.”
Refining Product Designs and Manufacturing Skills
While he was at POC21, he started using Fusion 360, initially for “pretty simple geometric shapes” in his product’s filter. He would sketch designs that he could then laser-cut.
Previously Selvarajan had been using a hand router for building models, but he wanted to create a nicer finish. “I always wanted to use the CNC machine,” he says, “because they’re amazing and so cool.” He got access to one at the FabLab, which allowed him to develop his skills. That makes him particularly happy: “Once that you know that you know something — that you have a new skill and are empowered — that’s a good feeling.”
Members of the Autodesk staff also helped the Showerloop team make a post-processor, which allows them to move from models to toolpaths for manufacturing. According to Selvarajan, “This is actually the reason I could use the CNC. Before we had some other software that I couldn’t learn on my own, but Fusion 360 lets me prepare things at home.”
Aiming for a Big Impact with Sustainable Technology
Selvarajan sees the need for technology that enables people to build greater resiliency as they adapt to a changing climate. His point isn’t to impose an ideology, but to provide people with an example of what’s possible.
Right now, the Showerloop team is getting their product kit ready for their first customer. In the meantime, they’ve also been invited to the upcoming UN Humanitarian Summit in Turkey. They are collaborating with fellow POC 21 alumni Sunzilla and water-filter maker Faircap on a portable solar backpack that can make drinking water for 100 people per day.
His advice to others who want to develop sustainable technology? “You should be ambitious to get it out there and make it big.”
Using Open Source to Get to a Better Future, Faster
What keeps Selvarajan motivated? “I think we’ve already got all the technology that we need,” he says, “so that everyone on the planet can live sustainably and with an even higher quality of life than before.” The trick is bring all the pieces together so they work as well as they possibly can, which is where Selvarajan’s philosophy surfaces again: “Open Source is the fastest and fairest way to do that, in my opinion.”
As for Showerloop: “The project has no end in sight.”