What if you could produce clean drinkingwater right out of thin airand without using electricity?That's what oneArizona based startup is trying to dousing a combination of solar energy,material science, and data.Is this the next level of drinking water?This is Zero Mass Water.It's a water startup operating out of an old car dealership in Scottsdale, Arizona.Zero Mass is building and selling solar-poweredpanels that harvest drinking watercalled Source.The panels have been upand running in specific locations overthe past couple years, but Source justbecame more widely available.At the very highest level, we take sunlight and airand we produce water.As you drill into that, the air part of that equationis applying air into materials that like water.So the same way when youleave a lid off of a sugar bowl, thesugar gets a little clumpy. That'sbecause that sugar really likes water in the air.
I visited Zero Mass attheir headquarters to check out their panels.And, of course, to taste the water.And where is this water coming from?So the panels that produce this water are on the roof.So we're taking a water vaporout of the air, concentrating it in thepanels and then we're dispensing it tothe tap.It tastes nice and clean.It's good isn't it?Yeah, I had some tap water last night that didn't taste quite like this.Okay. So to say they pull water from the air is technically accurate,but reallyit's a multi-step system.The Zero Mass panels look like regular solar panels,but the middle strip is the only part that is standard photovoltaic technology.That part drives the fans and the communications inside the unit.On either side of that strip is a proprietary,porous material - one that generates heat.A separate proprietary material inside the panel absorbs moisture from the air.Then the panel uses sunlight to take the water back out of those materialsand produce a process that's not dissimilar from dew forming on grass.Basically, when warm air hits a surface colder than itself.And then the water ends up in a30-liter reservoir.Where it's mineralized and pH balanced and at that point it's drinkable.Let's say there's an emergencysituation, like with the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico.How quickly can you getone of these set up?So the three of us could install two of these in probably an hour.And so it actually turns out,the thing that takes the longest inputting these in,is moving that line down to the sink or to the refrigerator.While I was able to see the Zero Mass panels and taste the water,I didn't have muchvisibility into how the water actually runsfrom the reservoir to a faucet.
I was, however, able to see the company's network operations center.We call it the NOC for short. Every panel that we've ever deployed is communicating with the server we have here.Robinson also said that each panel has a circuit boardthat runs an algorithm. So it can adjustitself to maximize water output. On average, each panel is supposed toproduce five liters of water per day.But it is safe to assume that if you're in a less humid climate or a more dry climatethat your water output could be less.Here is probably very different from here in the Philippines, right?Yep, the two things that affect the amount of water we produceare the humidity in the atmosphereand the amount of solarenergy that's available.Still, he says that Zero Mass panels are absolutely able to make water in the desert,even in a place as dry as Arizona.There's no doubt that a lack of access to clean water is a big problemfor a lot of people. According to the United Nations,water scarcity affects more than 40percent of the global population.What would you say is the biggest water problem we have around the globe right now?Is it scarcity, is it quality, is it access?I would say, it is really allof the above. That would be the right answer.The number of people who die fromwaterborne diseases is enormous.It exceeds a million deaths per year.Dr. Ashok Gadgil is a kind of legend when it comes to socially beneficial technologies,especially in the developing world.
He's won numerousawards, including an induction into theNational Inventors Hall of Fame.And back in the 90s he developed a product that uses UV light to disinfect water.He says that changes in climate patterns, the explosion in urban populationsand rising incomes are setting us up for a serious water crisis.This century, there is going to be an extraordinary crisisthat the groundwater will be relied on asif it was there in indefinitely large quantities.It is not, of course, there thatway — and we are to drill deeper anddeeper and we are extracting now water,that some of my geochemist friends tell me,is 10,000 years old,that is being pulled out of the ground to be used,because that's the rate of replenishment. It's minuscule compared to the rate of a withdrawal.So, is Zero Mass goingto replace groundwater as a primary source?Is it going to help people withlittle to no access to clean water?Or is it just for people who buy a lot ofbottled water?Cody Friesen, the CEO, says all of the above.This takes us from a position of water scarcity to a position of water abundancefor every person. And it's a profound thing to sayand I recognize it sounds profound but this technologyentitles us to be aspirational becauseof the fact that we can say,“Okay, yep they're Syrian refugee issues in northern Lebanon, let's go there."“Yep, Maria hit Puerto Rico, yep, let's go there.”“Hey, there's issues in Flint, let's go there.”“Hey, by the way, you're buyingbottled water in Berkeley.Let's displace that.” Same in Oakland, same in Scottsdale.There is still the cost to consider.
Each panel costs $2,000 plus a $500 installation fee, so $4,500 total for a two-panel array.So far, Zero Masssays hundreds of panels have been set upin eight countries around the world. For people in developed markets,that means they're either early testers or they'repaying out of pocket.In emergency situations or places where there's alack of funding, the company is relyingon donors, NGOs, or multilateralinstitutions.The fact that it's totally independent of any infrastructure,no wire, no pipe or anything,the fact that we can just put this anywhere, changesyour life.There's no doubt Zero Mass is working hard on an innovative way for peopleto have access to clean water withoutelectricity or sophisticated plumbing.Not surprisingly, others are workingon solutions like this too.The question then doesn't seem to bewhether it's too good to be true,it's whether harvesting water from theair is the most sustainable,most cost-effective solution for clean water.While Dr. Gadgil declined to comment on Zero Mass specifically,he said the method of harvesting water from the airwouldn't be his first choice.Pulling water from moisture — condensing water from moisture in the airis viable if I was on a desert island, I had lots of moneyand there was no other source of freshwater and I was going to die.
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Similarly, conserving water seems to be acheaper way to go,before you start harvesting it from the air.In the world of water,there may be different interpretations of sustainabilityand varying approaches to how to get clean water to more people.For Zero Mass, the company says the goal is to get to the pointwhere the idea of water fromthin air,is just a part of people's everyday conversations.You're at a cocktail party and say, "Oh I've got solar on my roof,"people think, "Oh electricity," to in asmall number of years, people saying, "Ohyou have solar, are you talking aboutelectricity or water?"Let's go up to the roof and check out our array up there.Okay. And Mike's coming with us, right? Isn't Mike coming with us?I think Mike was supposed to come with us.Yeah, Mike's coming with us.Mike, we lost you.Oh, I was supposed to? Sorry. I was getting mixed signals.
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