What is Solarmate?
Similar in size to a thermos (see figure 1), Solarmate allows you to heat up water using solar energy while maintaining its temperature in the same way a conventional thermos does. In doing this, the device combines two functions: one as a water heater with solar energy, and the second as hot water storage. Solarmate’s main feature of using solar energy makes it an ideal companion for outdoor activities.
In the “open” position, you can heat your water using solar energy, on a sunny day in any season, from 20°C (68°F) to 80°C (176°F), which is the ideal temperature for Yerba Mate or any herbal infusion, in approximately 30 minutes. If the Solarmate is in the “closed” position, it will store your hot water as a conventional thermos, cooling at about 4°C (39°F) per hourse, compared to a stainless thermos that loses about 3°C (37°F) / hour and a conventional glass that loses 2°C (36°F) / hour.
The comparative results are highly positive. Moreover, if you ever need to add more heat to your water, you can just open the Solarmate towards the sun for a few minutes.
Why we created the Solarmate
The foundation for the creation of the Solarmate is that most of the situations where hot infusions, such as Yerba Mate, are consumed are outdoors – e.g. camping, hanging out at the beach, sailing, trekking, etc. – in full sunlight, which is where the real potential of using the sun to heat up water for your Yerba Mate, tea or other infusion lies.
Nowadays, water for these various infusions is obtained via gas and electricity, along with all of the detrimental impacts to our environment that they entail. With the Solarmate, you can capture the sun and maintained optimal temperature with maximum efficiency and responsibility towards our earth. The materials that we use to make the Solarmate are cost-affordable, high quality and specifically selected to make sure we do the least harm possible to the environment. Additionally, the Solarmate incorporates a design philosophy of positive aesthetics, given that we know regular drinkers of Yerba Mate and other infusions will be using it every day, thus integrating renewable energy into their daily lives, which is one of our main goals.
The lover of outdoor activities and group picnics, the climber who needs hot water on the mountain, the farmer who takes Yerba Mate on the tractor, the housewife who takes Yerba Mate while in the yard, the soldier who needs hot water for inhospitable situations, the miners in the middle of Patagonia and many more. This is who the Solarmate was created for; anyone and everyone who like to drink hot beverages outdoors.
How We Started Solarmate
One day while on the beach, we ran out of hot water and said, “What do we do?” We had to go to the nearest gas station, wait in line, pay up for hot water and, above all, witness how gas and electricity were being wasted to heat the water. This was during one of the sunniest times of year, forcing us to put more sunscreen on while we waited in the line. While thinking about all of that, we realized that there was something missing which would allow us to take advantage of the sun in a practice and simple way. From there, we began to think about concepts of what the product would be: prototypes, industrial design, the business plan and more.
We wanted to share this product both with everyone who drinks mate around the world and those who use hot water for whatever they want, wherever they want.
So, our idea began in 2006 with the materialization of the concept we wanted to develop (see Figure 1).
After doing that, we began a state of functional optimization of the device, passing through several models (see Figure 2 and 3).
Once we reached this point, with the help of an industrial designed named Gustavo from the UBA, we started to incorporate the industrial design, exploring other various models (see Figure 4) that we wanted to eventually turn the product into.
After several designs, we began to develop prototypes while simultaneously testing various manufacturing processes (see Figures 6 and 7). As a result, several prototypes were developed at this stage. Particularly noteworthy was the assistance of UNSAM (National University of San Martin) and CNEA (National Atomic Energy Commission) to manufacture them.
The built prototypes allowed us to be selected for the final of the national innovation contest: “INNOVAR” in 2008, 2009 and 2010 (Figure 10B).
With the latest prototype in hand and a good estimate of manufacturing costs, we were able to develop the business plan for manufacturing the device. At this point we had a lot of support from FUNDES and our business plan was a finalist for the “Business in Development Network” contest (Figure 10A), as well as the “IDEAS” contest organized by the Inter-American Development Bank. The first one allowed us to travel to Holland and show our project to potential investors. It also allowed us to accurately evaluate the market for the products we wanted to develop and the specific possibilities of getting investment.
With all the human resources developed, along with a solid business plan, we had interviews with several interested investors. However, we could not find a match for our project. So we decided to go ahead with our own path and present the project to SEPYME, in the lines “Capital Semilla” and “Entrepreneurs PACC,” benefiting both lines. With the funds obtained we were able to purchase equipment to begin the production of the first series of Solarmate.
Subsequently, in order to present ourselves to the EMPRETECNO call of the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion, we partnered with the company SURSOLAR and with the Institute of Environmental Engineering of the University of San Martin.
We were benefited with investment from EMPRETECNO, and we are currently finalizing the first serial production of 1000 units of our first product. In this last stage, which is really a transition of the product to the market, we received support from the Unsam Innovation and Technology Foundation (FUNINTEC). Through them, we obtained a physical place to house all the necessary machinery of the project and also immense support to be able to go to market with the product.
So, after eight years of design, team building, human resources, enthusiasm and persistence, we were able to produce SolarMate.
Customizing the power of the sun
The simple concept behind Solarmate is the personalized use of solar energy, meaning that individuals can harness the power of the sun, thus aiding them in their daily lives in a sustainable and scalable way. In accordance with this idea, each Solarmate is customizable. It’s possible to add a photo, logo or whatever you’d like to your own Solarmate.
Environmental benefits of Solarmate
The use of Solarmate has many environmental benefits, especially including the reduction of CO2 emissions and the use of fuels. Heating one liter of water from 20 to 80ºC (68 – 176°F), using electricity via an electric kettle, emits about 51.9g of CO2. On a typical day, for every million of liters heated only for hot beverages, 70,000 KWh are consumed and 51.9 tons of CO2 are emitted. Each use of the Solarmate represents a 100% saving of both energy sources – either gas or electricity – and additionally avoids increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.
This is why we created Solarmate, to help our environment while allowing any and every individual under the sun to continue enjoying their hot beverages in a delicious, responsible and healthy way.