WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Hydropanels are a new kind of solar panel that generate electricity and water – and they could be game changing.
For billions of people on this planet we get our water from what’s known as potable water sources like aquifers, or desalinated water factories, which then spills out of our taps. But ironically that’s one of the most inefficient ways to do it because water is all around us – always. Even in deserts. And if you’re wondering where then look around you at the air.
As the world faces extreme water stress in 2030, according to the United Nations, as over 129 countries face increasingly chronic shortages it’s important that we solve the so called water crisis that governments increasingly believe will cause future “Water Wars.”
One of the ways to do this, as I’ve discussed before, is to pull water straight out of the air using what’s known as Direct Air Capture (DAC) systems, like the 3D printed heat exchanger I showed off recently from GE which can pull 500 litres of pure water from the air every day.
Hear more about the concept
Furthermore, by using these kinds of systems you no longer need to bother with complex and expensive water infrastructure – which is why I say today’s system of water purification and distribution is inefficient and basically flawed. But now there’s another DAC on the market.
We know of solar panels, but have you heard of hydropanels? The concept isn’t too disparate from the revolutionary technology. In fact, as we’ve seen before, hydropanels harvest sunlight, and generate solar power, to collect water from air — about five litres per day. Once it is stored in the reservoir, the condensed water vapour is filtered and mineralised with magnesium and calcium for drinking.
A select few got to taste a little bit of his “sunshine and air” combo at the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Masafi, a pioneer of “Deep-Earth drinking water” in the UAE, in partnership with SOURCE Global, presented its new line of eco-friendly water ‘SOURCE’ for the first time.
“This UAE based partnership will truly revolutionise the way we produce sustainable drinking water, which is simply made from the sky,” Dani Afiouni, Chief Commercial Officer of Masafi Group, told the audience. He also told Gulf News that SOURCE Water would break ground at local retail stores by mid-2022.
Using SOURCE Global’s Hydropanel patented technology, SOURCE UAE will become the world’s first renewable bottled water – where their use of the term “renewable” is odd because all water is essentially “renewable” thanks to the Earth’s water cycle.
Anyway, back to the topic. The treated water vapour comes in a sleek glass bottle that is itself 100 per cent recyclable and refillable, offering “sustainable options for still, sparkling and naturally flavoured water.” Not only the contents of the bottle leave no carbon footprint behind but the packaging takes a circular economy approach as well.
“In 1977, we witnessed the first natural water bottling plant in the UAE by Masafi. We are inspired by the government’s lead and endeavour for a more sustainable future through the initiation of Vision 2030 and the Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals,” said Afiouni.
Afiouni added that the technology is “a gift that keeps on giving”. It is completely self-sufficient and off-grid. Unplugged, the hydropanels are left to do their magic in remote lands, and in turn, you are left with an abundance of fresh renewable water straight from the skies. What’s more, 91 per cent of the material used to build these panels are mass bulk-recyclable.
But where exactly does the water come from? Neil Grimmer, brand president of SOURCE Global, said the troposphere holds the key to endless supply. According to Grimmer, the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, which is home to weather phenomena, holds six times the total volume of all the rivers on the planet.
“Tapping into the [troposphere] and doing it in a very sustainable way — without harming Nature — led to the innovative breakthrough of the hydropanel,” Grimmer added.
Straddling the border between Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, the underground wells of the Hajar mountain range are a natural reservoir of drinking water, which Masafi was the first to tap into. And now, the area will see another record-breaking achievement in the UAE — the region’s first and the world’s largest water farm.
Soon, a cluster of 5,000-plus hydropanels – a hydrofarm – will be seen sprouting across the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah at Masafi’s local factory. Much like the giant 6GW Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, the water farm will be open to the public.
“The field is going to be a museum. You can take your kids and your family for a visit, for them to see what the future looks like. What we want them to do is really think about these things once they embark on new endeavours,” he said of the sprawling water farm, which is scheduled for construction in the coming three months.
Once the sustainable water farm is up and running, the Masafi factory will pick up supply from the field for bottling.
Extracting water from air is not a novelty at Expo 2020 Dubai, though. There is a vertical farm irrigated by the solar-powered Rainmaker in the Netherlands Pavilion, and at Czech Republic, the pavilion is growing a verdant garden on arid land, using a home-grown water-from-air solution. Afiouni looks forward to exchanging know-how in the field at the fair, but remains meticulous in his vision.
“The prerequisite for all of this is that the technology has to be completely off-grid. Otherwise, it just defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do,” he added.