The power of sunlight can pull clean drinking water from thin air

21st-century sorcery
Water Condenser
We can agree that everybody needs water. So instead of getting chewed out for constantly causing data overages on your parents' phone plan, talk about how cool it is that Arizona-based startup Zero Mass Water has developed a solar panel that draws drinking water from the air. Working by the same principle that causes an air conditioner to drip, this device could help many people around the world access clean water. By the time everyone is talking about how humans can harness this technology to ensure the health and safety of all people, they'll have forgotten all about the 30 gigabytes of data you used catching Pokemon last month. Zero Mass Water
Solar Panel

Water. Its absence has ignited wars and leveled societies. It’s our most precious commodity and one that is growing increasingly scarce.

What if you could pull it out of thin air?

Cody Friesen, founder of Arizona startup Zero Mass Water, is on a mission to do just that.

“Drinking water is a fundamental human right,” Friesen said. “We intrinsically own the air we breathe by just taking a breath, and almost no one on the planet owns the water they drink.”

Friesen developed Source, a solar panel that draws moisture from the air we breathe and condenses it into drinkable water.

“Anybody who has an air conditioner makes water from air. There’s nothing magical there,” said Friesen. “What we set out to do is to develop a solar panel that makes drinking water instead of electricity.”

Water Condenser

How does it work? Imagine a salt shaker with grains of rice interspersed among the salt. The rice absorbs moisture, keeping the salt dry. Zero Mass Water developed a material that acts like those grains of rice, absorbing water from the air.

Water is extracted from that material and purified. Source adds calcium and magnesium to match the flavor and pH of bottled water, producing 5 liters each day – enough to sate a family of four.

Because Source is powered entirely by solar energy, it can operate far from a power grid or centralized water supply. It is a leapfrog technology much like solar panels and cell phones, which have allowed those in developing countries to generate electricity and connect to the internet without constructing power plants or installing phone lines.

water condeser
Friesen (center) with his colleagues in Arizona. Zero Mass Water

Friesen says panels are built to last and maintenance is easy. Refill the mineral supplement every now and then and look out for repairs, and things should stay nice and wet.

“Anyone who can use a Phillips-head screwdriver can do maintenance on the system,” he said. “It’s all within arms reach and very, very simple.” Before long, he says, replacement parts will be available online.

Friesen, a professor of engineering at Arizona State University, developed Source in the dry Southwest. The invention has already garnered interest from consumers in California and Arizona who want to use it replace bottled water.

Source will prove even more valuable to consumers in developing countries. Roughly one in ten people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. Climate change threatens to exacerbate this problem by fueling drought in vulnerable regions. A machine that can draw moisture from the air would be eminently useful for families in poor, remote areas.

Zero Mass Water has already installed panels in the United States, Mexico, Jordan, and Ecuador. Friesen recalled the story of one family in Ecuador that installed a panel, and the impact it had on their young daughter.

“It fundamentally changed that little girl’s life,” said Friesen. “She went from having no clean water… to, all of a sudden, having perfectly clean, beautiful drinking water.”

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy .