On Monday, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced that it would be spending nearly half-a-million dollars on 150 solar-powered devices that can literally produce water out of thin air. The agency hopes that these devices can provide relief to drought stricken areas in the country, as well as lower dependence on plastic water bottles.
The devices, called Source, are manufactured by an Arizona-based company called Zero Mass Water. Each ‘hydropanel’ weighs about 300 pounds and consists of an array of four foot by eight foot solar panels, an air filter, and a water reservoir that can hold up to 30 liters of water. Fans draw outside air through the hydropanel’s air filter is made out of a proprietary hygroscopic material that attracts water molecules from the air. This water is then routed into the reservoir where it is treated with minerals and ozone to maintain taste and quality.
Each solar panel costs about $2,000 and can produce between 4 and 10 liters of water per day on average, depending on humidity levels and the amount of sunlight in the area. Even in arid climates where humidity levels are as low as 10 percent the device is still able to pull at least two liters of water from the air.
It's not the first device to pull water from thin air using solar power. A group of researchers at UC Berkeley and MIT have also made a similar device that is able to extract water from the air and filter it in arid climates. This device hasn’t yet hit the market, however, whereas the Source hydropanels have already been deployed in 10 countries around the world, according to Zero Mass Water.
The proliferation of devices that are able to collect water even in the world’s most arid climates will likely become a necessity as climate change makes water resources scarce in many parts of the world. Indeed, it could be a critical device for cities like Cape Town, where water reservoirs recently went completely dry.
In this sense, Australia’s pilot program with the device is a crucial proof-of-concept to demonstrate how reliable these devices are and whether they can actually make a dent in waste from plastic water bottles while providing fresh water to drought stricken communities.