US company launches new solar-powered water production device in Cape Town

Cody Friesen (left), Zero Mass Water CEO with US Consul General Virginia Blaser in front of SOURCE Hydropanels. (Supplied)
Cody Friesen (left), Zero Mass Water CEO with US Consul General Virginia Blaser in front of SOURCE Hydropanels. (Supplied)

The private sector can play a pivotal role in relieving the impact of the drought, and US expertise can help, US consul general in Cape Town Virginia Blaser said on Tuesday.

Blaser was speaking at the launch of a new solar "water from air" device by Zero Mass Water, a US company based in Arizona.

Zero Mass Water's SOURCE Hydropanels use sunlight and air to make safe, pure drinking water. Powered entirely by solar, SOURCE extracts water vapour from the air and converts it into liquid water similar to distilled water.

This water is then mineralised with magnesium and calcium before being delivered to a tap.

A variety of water-from-air machines are commercially available currently, but most of them are reliant on electricity.

Infrastructure independent

According to Zero Mass Water, SOURCE utilises an ultra-absorbent material that collects water from the air around it in even arid conditions. An average of 3 to 5 litres of water is produced per panel per day.  

The device is described as "infrastructure independent" and also functions in arid conditions.

Cody Friesen, Zero Mass Water's founder and CEO, is a materials scientist and associate professor at Arizona State University.

About eight years ago it became clear to him that solar power would be cheaper than coal, he said.

"I asked: 'what next?' and realised that direct renewables to resources was the future for supplying drinking water - probably humanity's greatest challenge," he said.

"About half a trillion litres of bottled water are sold each year at a huge cost and use of plastic.

"We still live in the Roman era in terms of the way we supply water. The question for me was whether we could leapfrog the process of water supply."

There was "endless" scope to apply the device in municipalities with failing infrastructures or homes where families were looking for better drinking water, he said. The device had technology installed for emergency situations, he added.

Currently, it will cost around R30 000 per panel for installation. The average home needs two panels.

Working group

Blaser has brought together a working group she says is "keeping an eye on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals".

"We want to see how we can bring together local expertise with US experts, so I started a working group keeping an eye on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals," she said.

Research has indicated that southern Africa’s water resources are likely to decrease further as a result of climate change and rapidly increasing population growth and urbanisation.

It has to date been unclear whether Cape Town has managed to ward off 'Day Zero', or for how long.

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