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Saving Water In The Atacama Desert



It’s been nearly an hour since dawn, but the sun is scorching everything beneath it. The sunlight is so intense that it’s impossible to stay out without a pair of sunglasses. The sight of an enclosed factory in the middle of the Atacama Desert can only find covered workers from head to toe. Headgear, sunglasses, and long sleeves are imperative all year round. Sebastian is also getting ready among those workers.


Sebastian Fernandez is a 35-year-old biotechnology engineer native from Iquique who performs as head of R&D and water treatment. His history with the company goes way back, as he started working in 2014 as a Production Worker. Swiftly, Sebastian moved up the ranks. First, he became a Shift Manager, and then he also managed the Osmosis Water Plant. Eventually, he was promoted to head of water treatment and finally director of R&D. He saw the water treatment plant grow in capacity from 3 cubic metres per hour all the way to the current 45 cubic metres/hour.


He is preparing for a new day, facing what’s proven to be the greatest challenge of his working days in Atacama Bio: reducing water waste in the middle of the desert. Every drop is precious there, and producing Astaxanthin demands a constant clean water supply. Sebastian is leading the latest upgrade of Atacama’s water processing system. He is confident that the project has reached its final stage as the new water processing plant using an ultrafiltration system has been added to the existing osmosis plant. Now, they can produce the water needed for daily production with an impressive efficiency upgrade of 40%. This colossal milestone could’ve been achieved in two ways: Investing in large, bringing machinery and getting over it ‘the quick way’, or doing it ‘the Atacama Bio way’. This is with hard work, research, and development. Sebastian spent many months with his team investigating different materials and the bioprocess of Haematococcus pluvialis itself, as its biochemical characteristics are the ones to compare with the different materials being tested for water processing.


After two years of hard teamwork, the task is finally completed. Now, almost all water used in the production process is being reutilized. This, as much as Sebastian’s and his team’s achievement, is Atacama’s too. It is just an example of how the company’s values guide its actions. For Atacama, sustainability is a must. But so is gaining experience.

This case shows that Atacama trusts its interdisciplinary team and would always prefer to get to the goal slowly while learning valuable information for the company and the workers rather than rushing a decision involving heavy duty and disrupting the sanctuary where the production process is carried out.


For now, this voyage is over. But in the future, many other problems will surge. Atacama will continuously face them with confidence in their team, with sustainability in their scope and embracing the chance to learn from a setback.

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