From thin air, clean drinking water From thin air, clean drinking water

From thin air, clean drinking water

How Duke Energy crafted deal to bring fresh water to village in Ecuador. The world is next


Clean drinking water is a desperate need and an elusive commodity in Ecuador’s villages.

Despite its plentiful rain, 10 million Ecuadorians don’t have access to potable water. Others spend more money on drinking water than housing. It’s one of the most pressing problems in developing countries. And in developed countries such as the United States, droughts, increasing demand and aging infrastructure have caused shortages and failures many predict will become worse.

There’s a project underway by a company named Zero Mass Water in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, that could provide relief in poor and wealthy countries alike. About 250,000 people live in Guayaquil’s outskirts and rely on water sold from trucks. It’s often of poor quality and can cost more than half a family’s income.

Zero Mass Water’s CEO, Cody Friesen – a U.S. scientist whose previous company makes batteries serving as a power source in remote villages in four continents – has developed a system that uses solar panels to produce drinking water from the sun and air.

Zero Mass Water CEO Cody Friesen in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Duke Energy worked with Zero Mass Water in 2015 to find the location in Guayaquil – where it has a power plant – using its relationship with the community, and helped the scientists and engineers install the solar panel technology to run tests on prototypes.

A year later, Zero Mass Water and Duke Energy returned to install permanent panels at homes, a school and a social services complex with a medical clinic. 

“The unit has had great reception by the community. The water has been sampled by everybody ... it was very good,” said Segundo Esterilla Yaguachi, a community leader. “They are pleased.”

Here’s how Source works: The free-standing solar panel uses energy from the sun to capture water vapor from the air to produce, mineralize and deliver clean, drinkable water.


“It’s easier to install than a TV on your wall," said Friesen. "If the sun’s up, they’re running.”

In recent years, other companies have used solar panels to purify water. However, they rely on external power or water. The Source panel requires only sun and air to function.

“You realize for much of the world, just getting clean water to drink is a daily challenge and concern,” said Mike Rowand, director of technology development for Duke Energy. “It’s something on their minds all the time.”

What was Duke Energy’s interest in this project?

Mike Rowand

“This is a potentially transformational technology addressing a critical and growing issue for humanity,” Rowand said. “Given the opportunity, Duke Energy is going to help with that. We saw this as a way to understand the technology from a renewable energy standpoint, and its potential to impact lives.”

Rowand said he sees promise, from both a business and humanitarian perspective, in the solar panel technology.

Participating in the Ecuador installations, he said, “Left you with the feeling that you were a part of something very important. Installing them for actual families, in one of the poorest areas – it was humbling.”

What could people in these countries achieve, Rowand and Friesen ask, if they weren’t so burdened by the quest for safe water?


A worldwide crisis

The World Health Organization estimates that 663 million people don’t have access to clean water. Most are the poorest people living in the world’s poorest countries. They suffer disproportionately from contaminated water-borne illnesses such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery and polio. Even in the United States, 1.7 million residents lack access to reliable, safe drinking water, and there are 54,000 Navajos that have no drinking water.

About Zero Mass Water

Founded in 2014 and based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Zero Mass Water believes that water is a fundamental human right, and is working to create a world where everyone, everywhere has convenient, reliable access to clean drinking water.


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