Commentary: New technology making water from air

Thomas Kostigen writes about Zero Mass Water and its technology that needs only sunlight and air to make drinking water.

By Thomas Kostigen

(About the author: Thomas M. Kostigen is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and journalist. He founded the Climate Survivalist column for USA Today and has written for numerous publications. This article has been adapted from Hacking Planet Earth by Thomas Kostigen, to be published March 24, 2020 by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House.) 

LOS ANGELES (Callaway Climate Insights) — Zero Mass Water is an awe-inspiring company. It produces water from sunlight and air. One of its founding venture capital investors says Zero Mass Water could potentially more positively impact people’s lives globally than any recent investment it has made.

Zero Mass Water’s SOURCE technology is a hydropanel that needs only sunlight and air to make drinking water. Four feet by eight feet in size, hydropanels look similar to solar panels and use advanced water-capture technology to produce as much as 10 liters of water per day, or the equivalent of 20 regular-sized water bottles.

A standard SOURCE set is made of two panels and a storage reservoir that holds 60 liters (about 16 gallons) of water. The system is completely off-the-grid, utilizing the power of the sun and a small battery to operate. The storage reservoir can connect to your plumbing and deliver water directly to your tap. It can also act as a water-delivery system in even the most arid deserts, making SOURCE technology a game-changer for communities that lack access to freshwater.

The company, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was launched in 2015, and is backed by funds associated with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other investors. 

Zero Mass Water was founded by Cody Friesen, a material scientist and engineering professor of innovation at Arizona State University, who saw an opportunity to create “hydro panels” that would be similar in look to solar panels, but instead of creating energy would create water. Business Insider goes as far as to say Zero Mass Water may hold “a solution to the global water crisis.”

The World Health Organization reports that more than two billion people lack safe drinking water at home, and nearly a billion people don’t have access to freshwater at all.

SOURCE applies thermodynamics, materials science, and controls technology to affect water capture. Essentially, the hydropanels capture heat and humidity that exist in the air and wring water from them.

Zero Mass Water says its mission is to make drinking water an unlimited resource. It’s also attuned to taste and quality. “SOURCE water is mineralized with calcium and magnesium, achieving optimal taste. With this perfect combination of electrolytes for your hydration, SOURCE brings the highest-quality water for your health right to your tap,” the company says.

SOURCE’s hydropanels have been installed all over the world, from developed, urbanized environments to rural communities. It operates on a distributor model and has operations in 35 countries. People can also buy a system directly from the ZeroMassWater website. Each system costs several thousand dollars, but pays for itself over time. Or as Zero Mass Water calculates, “With a 15-year life, your SOURCE will provide you with [on average] a case of delicious water per day, or 12 standard bottles, for less than $1.00!” The company also has a program, Water for Life (W4L), that enables customers (or donors) to help families or communities in need acquire a SOURCE system.

Hotels, individual homeowners, island communities, schools, and a variety of organizations have partnered with Zero Mass Water for drinking water, as a reserve water source, for education purposes, and to serve those who lack access to freshwater.

“All over the world, people are innovating and applying SOURCE in a wide range of ways,” Zero Mass Water says.

Photo: SOURCE panels from Zero Mass Water.