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Solar panels can generate water with just sunlight and air. Really?

Posted on Oct. 4, 2019 by Sanghamitra Sinha Chowdhury

Though one-fourths of the entire world is stuffed with the land; barring that all is under the water. There are still umpteen of regions inside the nooks of the earth where water scarcity is prevailing with all spunk. This happens to be a reminiscence of what is taking place in certain parts of the Middle East, even today! But solar innovations had a way to deal with it too. Intended to transform a scenario of water abundance from water scarcity, ‘SOURCE’ is a kind of solar panel that can be leveraged upon water-harvesting, including just sunlight and air. Now let us gain some in-depth knowledge regarding this lucrative solar innovation that has been in the news for more than the past six years.

Solar panels producing water, or rather “hydro panels” are simply tech-designed solar panels that do entrap moisture present in the air to manufacture, mineralize and deliver safe drinking water to your tap. These solar panels are available for sale in the residential, commercial and public utility sectors. Homes with these solar panels (a single SOURCE array) can counteract up to over 70,000 plastic bottles in course of ten years and wastage of zero water. This water-harvesting technology belongs to a company called Zero Mass Water and has been on the field since late 2017. First developed at Arizona State University, this extremely successful range of products has positioned itself over the roofs of specific customers like multi-lateral institutions, recipients of emergency aid, investors, and friends of the company. Gradually it got embedded to the US consumers as well. Powered by 1 billion funds from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, every two panels of this system can produce ten liters of water each day.

“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.

Solar Panel Technology

At the highest level, Zero Mass “take[s] sunlight and air and we produce water,” Friesen said, as he showed the Source panels. “As you drill into that, the air part of that equation applies air into the materials that like water. So in the same way, 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.”

  1. Founder Cody Friesen, a materials scientist and associate professor at Arizona State University, spent nearly seven years developing the Source Hydro panel.
  2. The internal mechanism of the system complies with the fundamentals of material science and fluid dynamics.
  3. The middle strip of a SOURCE panel resembles that of a standard solar panel.
  4. A proprietary porous, heat-generating material is present on either side. One proprietary material inside the panel is responsible for absorbing the water vapor from the air.
  5. Mechanism - moisture gradually extracted from the air and is heated by solar panels & condensed into pure water.
  6. The solar panel captures sunlight and transforms into energy, which heats the material inside and creates condensation.
  7. Water gets collected in a 30-liter reservoir. Minerals are added for taste improvisation and ozone for purity maintenance.
  8. Then the water gets pumped directly to a household tap or a refrigerator fill station. The unit has its own solar panel, everything occurs off-grid.

Environment-Friendly Solar Innovation

So evidently solar energy–harnessing has a tremendous benefit over our environment. That is why there is surely home for solar beyond this year! Several initiatives have been undertaken by all major nations in order to facilitate solar-power utilization. Zero Mass Water’s approach to harvesting water stands as a technically-efficient method. Its total structural independence could be touted as is one of its most innovative features. Hand-in-hands with other environmental benefits, water inadequacy today evolves out to be the most robust one. Friesen insisted Zero Mass to be the most sustainable water supply. “Today it takes far less energy (effectively none, since it’s entirely solar-powered) to create drinking water with SOURCE than any other mechanism”. The question is- who Source is for – whether it’s for 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 – the answer is everyone. The company also aims to provide source water for advanced agriculture in the future. From installing systems in low infrastructure areas of Mexico, Jordan, and the Philippines; to donating sufficient solar panels to Puerto Rico after Maria, Zero mass has done it all. The hydro-panel technology is already in use in a Lebanese orphanage, a girl’s school in Kenya and a private home in the US. Water security is a major global challenge as cities grow and the effects of climate change intensify, Zero water-mass uses some nifty science to squeeze potable water from the air. This solar power is enough to produce enough drinking water for at least three people each day, even in desert conditions. The innovation might, at present, not be designed to provide enough water for an entire family's total daily usage (the average American uses about 100 gallons per day), but it does ensure that a moderate supply drinking water is always clean and available - something that's currently not the case for 10% of the world's population. Although this hydro-panel generates electricity to create water, it is designed to operate off-grid. This makes it promising, especially in an emergency situation.

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