Making water a renewable resource

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This week we interview Vahid Fotuhi – VP, BD, Middle East & Africa at Zero Mass Water.

Imagine, drinking water produced by using only air and sunlight, yes you read correctly. Zero Mass Water is a company doing just that and the global potential is really phenomenal bearing in mind the UN states 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. With a vision to make the lowest cost regenerative potable water anywhere in the world, the future looks bright.

SOURCE panels installed in Dubai

SOURCE panels installed in Dubai

Please can you tell us all about Zero Mass Water, how it works and how it was started?

Zero Mass Water is a US-based tech company that produces drinking water by using only air and sunlight.

Our company’s patented SOURCE Hydropanels essentially do for drinking water what solar panels have done for electricity; making water a renewable resource. The panels take in sunlight and air to create pure water from the atmosphere, add minerals, ozonate, and then store the drinking water ahead of its use.

What are the potential global impacts of providing this kind of technology, bearing in mind the UN states 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water?

Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental human right. Yet for too many people getting access to this essential resource is either too expensive, too extractive or too scarce. The question becomes: how do you provide safe and reliable drinking water to those 2.2 billion people? This is where SOURCE comes in. By being entirely self-powered and easy to maintain, you can place these Hydropanels anywhere and they will start producing drinking water for those who need it. Like solar panels, they are modular which means you can scale up the system to match the community’s exact water needs.

Are there any limitations to the technology, its lifespan, environmental impact of production and potential recycling/repurposing?

We have designed the Hydropanels so that they are reliable and low-cost to operate. Each SOURCE Hydropanel has a 15-year lifespan and thereafter it can still be used through some parts replacements. Even in low-humidity areas these SOURCE Hydropanels still produce water 12 months each year. They have been designed and manufactured in Arizona which is one of the most dry climates in the world. Yet even in Arizona we have many SOURCE installations that are producing drinking water day in, day out.

What is the return on investment? (for example, how many bottles of water would it cost to produce the same amount of water through this system).

The ROI depends on the location and the alternative cost of water. For example, if you’re in a location where you need water trucked to you then obviously the ROI will be faster than if you have access to reliable and safe water right at your doorstep.

It’s also important to remember that with each SOURCE Hydropanel you are offsetting 8 metric tons of CO2 as well as 50,000 single use plastic bottles through its 15 year lifespan. So, beyond the monetary impact there is an important environmental impact that should not be ignored.

I understand you are working in over 45 countries so far, could you share with us some success stories?

This technology is already operating in 45 countries. Here’s a snapshot of all our existing assets in the Middle East. Three key data points to highlight:

–        Nearly 2,500 SOURCE Hydropanels in operation

–        Spread across 30 projects

–        Spanning 5 countries

One of our projects in the UAE is the ​Platinum Heritage Desert Safaris

In addition to being 100% solar powered, this desert camp is also known as Dubai’s most sustainable eco-tourism destination. Because of the region and its location in the Arabian desert, all of Dubai’s water is created through desalination, and nearly all of the water options available to the camp come at an environmental cost, whether that be through water filtration waste or the packaging of bottled water. To offset this, the camp has incorporated Zero Mass Water’s Hydropanel technology to create and establish their own water source – a SOURCE Field of 100 panels. The array, installed at their desert safari camp, will create up to 182,500 liters of drinking water annually for its guests, again removing the need to rely on plastic bottles or water brought in from outside areas

Saudi Arabia’s highly respected tech commentator, Ahmad Al Shugeiri recently highlighted Zero Mass Water as an example of how renewable energy resources can be used to access to clean drinking water in remote areas. You can watch the SOURCE feature here, or take a look at the full episode here.

Could I install the technology in my home, how much would it cost and how much water would it produce and how long would it take?

Yes! Zero Mass Water’s SOURCE Hydropanels work very similarly as solar panels. Except that instead of producing electricity they produce safe, clean drinking water for industrial, commercial, and residential use. So as long as you own your home and you want to make your water usage more sustainable then for sure you should consider SOURCE.

Do you plan to bottle the water and sell it commercially? If so and bearing in mind the single use plastic issue, what would you use as a container?

Yes, we have partnered with IBV, a local private water bottling company in Dubai, which is looking for a way to provide premium, renewable drinking water. In partnership Zero Mass Water, IBV now purchases SOURCE Water from the SOURCE Hydropanel Field located in Lahbab, Dubai. Sold in recyclable glass bottles rather than single-use plastic, IBV will offer their customers premium, locally-produced drinking water made from sunlight and air. Expected launch of the product will be in Q4 2020. IBV will be working with Blue Eyes a local water bottling company in the UAE to make sure bottles are distributed to customers looking for premium quality sustainable drinking water.

You recently had some interesting news in terms of investments with Black Rock, can you tell me about this and the potential impact?

We are thrilled to announce that BlackRock has lead our $50 million Series C1 equity financing round. They will be joining our existing list of world class investors such as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Duke Energy and Material Impact Fund. With this latest capital injection, we plan to scale up our global installations and to launch direct-to-consumer initiatives, including residential panel installations beyond North America. This investment will also help us accelerate our innovations in the field of renewable water technologies.

What about countries which have limited sunlight hours, would the technology still work?

Yes, even with humidity levels of 6-8% our SOURCE Hydropanels are able effectively produce drinking water.

How about the maintenance, how long do the filters last, do the panels need cleaning etc, etc?

The air filters are typically replaced every 12 months. The mineral pouch inside the Hydropanel has a lifespan of at least 5 years. These are the only two main bits that need to be refreshed and their costs is $20-50 which is quite good.

Any potential long-term impact on the environment, i.e. taking out the water?

According to the 2020 UN World Water Development Report, climate change will significantly impact the availability, quality, and quantity of water putting the basic right to safe drinking water and sanitation at risk for billions of people. Unsustainable water management will have long-term economic, social and environmental implications. This is where we think we can have an impact: by replacing unsustainable water extraction methods and by helping reduce the reliance on single-use plastic bottles.

What is the future of ZERO MASS water, do you foresee a future where drinking water can be made available to everyone?

With this latest investment round the future for Zero Mass Water looks very bright! We are in a strong position to realize our company’s vision to make the lowest cost regenerative potable water anywhere in the world. Often we provide a sustainable alternative to desalination or dehumidifying technology vendors, who don’t always offer the same pure, clean quality; nor do they operate off the grid and independent of supply chains. This is a key differentiator globally, but especially in our region which is heavily reliant on water desalination.

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Vahid Fotuhi

Vahid has over 20 years of experience in the renewable energy industry in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia.

Before joining Zero Mass Water, Vahid was Managing Director of Access Power, a leading developer, owner and operator of renewable energy assets in Africa and Central Asia where he focused on deal origination.

During his six years at Access Power he originated, developed and helped finance (equity and debt) greenfield solar and wind power projects in 12 emerging markets, delivering over $600m worth of clean energy assets in partnership with EBRD, CDC, Proparco, FMO, and Total.

Prior to this, he was regional head of BP Solar for the Middle East, the region’s largest solar systems provider.

He also led BP’s Integrated Supply & Trading (IST) analytics team in Dubai where he ran quantitative assessments for MENA investment opportunities.

Vahid is the Founder of the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), the largest and most active solar trade organization in the Middle East, established in 2009.

Following a decade of travels across 25 countries in Africa, Vahid published his first book in 2018 entitled “African Perspectives” which vividly illustrates all that is beautiful about the Mighty Continent.