How our drinking water could come from thin air

February 26, 2024

Martine Paris,, February 5, 2024

From solar panels that produce water to ‘self-filling’ coffee machines and water coolers, technology companies are putting a new spin on a centuries-old technique.

In the dry, desert air of Las Vegas, it seems strange to be talking about a plentiful source of water all around us.

Southern Nevada is in the grip of one of the worst droughts it has experienced in recorded history, leading to water shortages and restrictions on use. So, in water-stressed areas such as this, the prospect of wringing water from thin air is an appealing prospect. And it is exactly what Cody Friesen is trying to do.

Friesen, an associate professor of materials science at Arizona State University, has developed a solar-powered hydropanel that can absorb water vapour at high volumes when exposed to sunlight.

It is a modern-day twist on an approach been used for centuries to pull water from the atmosphere, such as using trees or nets to “catch” fog in Peru, a practice that dates back to the 1500s and is still being used today.

Amid the flashy transparent televisions and electric vehicles at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, there were a few start-ups claiming to have new ways of exploiting this ancient, and often overlooked source of clean drinking water. And with the help of artificial intelligence, they’re finding ways of pulling even more water out of the air.

Friesen founded his own company Zero Mass Water in 2014 following his research on solar-powered hydropanels. Today the company is called Source Global, operates in more than 50 countries and has a private valuation of more than $1bn (£800m).

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