Cape Town - Drinking water is the most constrained resource around the world and humanity’s greatest challenge, according to Zero Mass Water founder and chief executive Cody Friesen, a materials scientist and an associate professor at Arizona State University in the US, who launched his solar water concept in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Zero Mass Water’s mission is to make drinking water an unlimited resource through its hydropanel called Source, which turns sunshine and air into high-quality water.
The panel system uses an ultra-absorbent material that collects water from the surrounding air, even in arid conditions. The system produces an average of three to five litres of water a panel a day.
Giving a brief background, Friesen said he did his PhD in materials science and had worked in the renewable energy space for a number of years. He became a professor of materials science in 2004.
“I started building technologies created around renewable energy space, and it became pretty clear about eight years ago that solar was going to win, that solar was going to be cheaper than coal, and we were transitioning towards a renewables future,” he said.
Friesen said the question that came to his mind as an innovator was what was going to be next.
“What I arrived at was that direct renewable resources was the thing that was going to be next, because renewable to electricity solves part of the problem, but eventually we must solve energy, water and food, and the most constrained resource we face around the world is drinking water. Drinking water is probably humanity’s greatest challenge,” he said.
Friesen said Cape Town recently faced the possibility of a Day Zero, which was pushed back to next year.
He said about a half-a-trillion litres of bottled water were sold globally a year. This does not include sachets and informal types of drinking water packaging.
“That actually adds up to a huge amount of plastic and a huge amount of carbon dioxide. In addition to that, one person dies from waterborne illnesses every 10 seconds on this planet,” he said.
Friesen said when it came to water the world was still living in the era of the Roman Empire, “waiting for the stuff to fall out of the sky, pray to the rain gods, or whatever it might be, wait for it to soak into the ground, pump it, treat it, flow it downhill to your home.
“Yet at the same time, we’ve got supercomputers in our pockets that have all of humanity’s information - all of this knowledge; other channels that allow us to leapfrog well-point infrastructure. So the question became, could we be creating leapfrogging water,” he said.
Friesen said Zero Mass Water’s Source hydropanes are a world-first technology, which use sunlight and air to make safe, pure drinking water.
The system is powered entirely by solar, and extracts pure water vapour from the air and converts it into liquid water, similar to distilled water.
The water is mineralised with magnesium and calcium before being delivered directly to a tap.
Friesen said the Source system made water without any external electric or water input, and the significant advancement in drinking water access was made possible through the combination of thermodynamics, materials science and controls technology.
He said that for developers and architects who are incorporating smart-home technology into their designs and offerings, Source is a differentiating feature in a modern home.
For the hospitality sector, it adds value when built into scalable arrays.
The hydropanels are modular and can be aggregated to meet the drinking water needs of a hotel, lodge or office building.
“With the high-cost and environmental damage of bottled water, hotels and attractions need a better choice for their guests. Our system provides a daily supply of delicious, high-quality drinking water, while offsetting the carbon footprint of bottled water,” he said.
Zero Mass Water has partnered with local firms Rubicon and Energeia. The cheapest system costs about R30 000.