This Company Is Making Fresh Water From Thin Air — And Sharing It With The World

Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC

In an age when 663 million people globally live without access to clean water, and one person dies from a waterborne illness every minute or two, it's no wonder that H2O has been dubbed "the new oil."

Even if you do think you have access to clean water, recent scandals like Flint, Michigan, show that there's a lot that could be going on outside of your gaze and inside the tap. It all depends on the infrastructure in place where you live. Cody Friesen, the founder and CEO of Zero Mass Water, is on a mission to even the playing field and bring fresh water to the masses using hydropanels that extract drinking water from thin air.

"You take a breath of air and you own the air you breathe, and yet water has its own supply chain," he says of the inherent injustice of a politicized water system. "Our vision is perfect water for every person, in every place."

Photo: Zero Mass Water

While this may sound too good to be true, Friesen describes the hydropanel technology he's using to make it happen in saying to think about it like a sugar jar. "If you leave the lid off of it, that sugar starts to get clumpy after a while because it's absorbing water from the atmosphere," he explains, the reason being that sugar is what's known as a hygroscopic material (one that readily absorbs water vapor from the air).

"What we did was develop a set of hygroscopic materials that are porous enough to rapidly absorb water from the atmosphere. We use sunlight to drive a process that takes water back out of the materials." From there, the water—up to 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of it a day—is put through a mineralized filter and diverted straight to the kitchen tap, effectively bypassing your community's system and creating what Friesen refers to as water independence.

The self-proclaimed science nerd with a Ph.D. from MIT was inspired to chase such independence after realizing that the water access problem can be solved using the right technology. From there, he pooled scientists, engineers, and business developers to launch the first panel, called Source, in 2015. Now, you can find a Source in eight countries, from poor, underserved regions like Guayaquil, Ecuador, where water cost more than half a family’s income, to highly polluted areas like Mexico City and Jakarta. This speaks to the filter's ability to weed out potential toxins in the air.

Photo: Zero Mass Water

This week, it's hitting the market in the United States, where Friesen hopes it will save businesses and homeowners money and headache. He says that those who use his product can rest easy knowing that they are in control of their water, which will also cut down on the temptation to go with environmentally damaging bottled options.

And though he's seen his product help in disaster zones like Puerto Rico and Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, he's still amazed to watch it work in his family's home in the Arizona desert every morning too. "My kids are drinking water that was in the air yesterday, and now it's in their glass."

Next up in green innovation? Check out this genius technology that is crowdsourcing a litter-free world.

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