Drinking water for a family near Keys comes from an unusual source: it is extracted from the air.
Such systems can help parts of the Central Valley with polluted wells, and parts of the world where there is always water shortage.
The idea is being tested by Valley Water Cooperative, which has provided free bottled supplies since last year in parts of Stanislaus and Merced counties.
The test system was installed in May outside the Izmar Road home where Martha Lorenzo and her extended family live. Their tap water had come from a nitrate-tainted well before it entered the co-op.
“My grandchildren live with me, so we wanted to make sure they had healthy water going forward,” Lorenzo said during a Wednesday morning visit from The Modesto Bee.
Their system produces about nine to 15 liters per day, which is enough for the drinking and cooking needs of a typical family.
Cheaper than bottled water
The cooperative got its unit from The source is globalHeadquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is one of several startups in the airborne water space. The brand name is Hydropanel.
Colin Goddard, vice president of business development for North America, said a system like the Lorenzo family costs about $7,000 to $8,000, but will pay for itself over its 15-year lifespan. This works out to about $1.30 to $1.45 per day.
“It’s cheaper than the plastic bottled water you buy at a store or have it delivered to you,” said Goddard, who called Wednesday from the Washington, D.C., area.
The cooperative provides its free water in an area bounded by the Stanislaus River to the north, the San Joaquin River to the west, the Merced River to the south, and roughly the line of Tuolumne County to the east. The program is not for customers of public water systems, which already treat pollutants.
The effort began with nitrates, which can cause various diseases if ingested. It is funded by about $1 million annually in appraisals of agriculture and other industries whose previous handling of manure and fertilizers contributed to the problem.
A local well user can order a free test to see if it is contaminated. Qualified homes can choose between connecting a water jug or an under-sink treatment system that needs regular maintenance.
Barry Claassen, executive director of the cooperative, said both options work in the short term, but they are not permanent solutions. He was present in Lorenzo’s house to explain the water-from-air system, which could spread to others if he proved his worth.
Earlier this year, a government grant of $5.5 million allowed collaborators to Expands to 11 more contaminants. Claassen said they are not eligible for the Hydropanel yet.
Sunlight drives the process
The air always carries water – a lot of it on rainy or foggy days and a lot less in the summer heat of the valley. The Source Global system is designed to operate in a range of conditions.
The devices are actually solar panels but with small holes where the air is sucked inside. The sun warms the air as it passes through a membrane that extracts moisture. Trace minerals are added to give drinking water its familiar flavor and micronutrients lacking in pure H20.
The condensed water is then pumped into the house, to supply a kitchen faucet separate from that used for washing dishes and other non-consumable uses.
The Hydropanel runs entirely on solar energy, including the photovoltaic cells that power the fans inside. It stores excess electricity in the battery so you can produce water at night.
The source has installed systems in more than 50 countries with different climates. It can be scaled up for schools, hospitals and other large users.
“It’s not going to save the world by any means,” Goddard said, “but if it helps make sure people have clean drinking water from a tap inside their home…I think that’s a financial benefit.”
This story was originally published August 5, 2022 7:05 am.