Zero Mass creates drinkable water from the air while generating electricity

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The founder of Zero Mass Water told me that this kind of early November heat was actually mild for the Arizona desert – and that regardless of the dry climate, he and his team were still able to produce water.

Because that’s what Zero Mass does: harvest drinking water out of thin air, using a combination of materials science, solar power, and predictive data. The goal is to use this technology to go from a position of “water scarcity to water abundance,” said founder and chief executive Cody Friesen, regardless of whether you’re in an area where access to clean water is a serious problem, or living in a place where bottled water is often half-drunk and discarded.

Zero Mass’s water-harvesting technology has been in the works for the past six years. It was first developed at Arizona State University, where Friesen was teaching engineering and materials science. Over the past couple years, Zero Mass’s panels — called Source — have been available to specific customers: multi-lateral institutions, recipients of emergency aid, investors, and friends of the company.

But just a couple weeks ago, Source became more widely available to consumers in the US. So for the most recent episode of Next Level Season 2, we headed to Arizona to check out the Source panels and taste the water ourselves.

At the highest level, Zero Mass “take[s] sunlight and air and we produce water,” Friesen said, as he showed me the Source panels. “As you drill into that, the air part of that equation is applying air into the materials that like water. So in the same way that when you leave the lid off a sugar bowl the sugar bowl gets a little clumpy, that’s because that sugar likes the water in the air. Our materials do exactly that.”

If you’re not following, that’s okay; you’d likely have to be an expert in materials science and fluid dynamics (or both) to grasp the process immediately. It’s a multi-step system. The middle strip of a Source panel is what you’d call a standard solar panel. On either side is a proprietary porous material that generates heat. Another proprietary material inside the panel absorbs the moisture from the air.

Then the panel uses sunlight to take the water back out of those materials and produce a process that’s not unlike water forming on grass; basically, when warm air hits a surface colder than itself.

At that point the condensed water ends up in a 30-liter reservoir under the panel. “The water is then flowed through a mineral block that adds calcium and magnesium, and brings the PH up so it’s slightly alkaline,” Friesen said, adding that the final product has what he calls “perfect mouthfeel.” Each panel costs $2000 and produces an average of two to five liters of water per day, Friesen said. A two-panel array costs $4500: $2000 per panel, plus a $500 installation fee.

Friesen who claimed Zero Mass is targeted at consumers who can afford to pay $4500 out of pocket for cleaner drinking water at home, or for people who are suffering from a serious scarcity of clean water in less developed areas – his answer was broad: everyone.

“Everybody who drinks water has to make sure that water is healthful and available, right? That’s you and that’s everyone else on the planet,” he said. “So when we think about who the end customer is it really is anybody who thinks about making their water healthful and great.” Friesen added that Source panels have, so far, been installed in wide range of places: in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, at schools and orphanages for refugees in Lebanon, and at high-end homes in California.

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