Although about 71% of the Earth is covered in water, the accessibility to clean, safe drinking water is not easy or affordable for everyone. Even though clean and fresh drinking water is a basic necessity of life, up to 1.1 billion people lack access to water and 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity for at least one whole month per year. Even metro cities like Cape Town, Cairo, and Beijing have been facing water scarcity on and off for some time now. It is expected that by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world population might face water shortage. Water shortage not only affects the daily routine but also aids and worsens economic decline. Moreover, unclean and dirty water leads to diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses.
A brilliant new solar panel innovation has presented the potential to deal with this growing drinking water scarcity across the world. Water producing solar panels known as Hydropanels are a water harvesting technology that uses sunlight and the environmental air to produce mineralized and safe drinking water. These solar panels are the innovation of a company named Zero Mass Water, Inc. and has been functional since late in 2017. The product has been named as SOURCE and is actually the combination of solar panels and high efficiency solar thermal systems. The electrical and thermal energy is used to produce high quality drinking water merely through air even in the areas that have low humidity.
The technology was initially developed in Arizona State University by Cody Friesen who teaches material sciences at the university. This is how Friesen has explained the basic phenomenon used in the SOURCE panels:
“When you have sugar in a bowl, that sugar gets a little clumpy over time, Have you ever thought about why?” says Friesen. “The science term for that is the sugar is hygroscopic,” he says. “Those materials want to come to equilibrium with the moisture in the atmosphere.”
Similarly, a single SOURCE panel is structured like a solar panel with the same properties as hygroscopic sugar but it can absorb moisture more rapidly. Solar energy powers the off-grid panels using sunlight, and then fans pull in the ambient air and push it through the hygroscopic material that traps water vapours from the air. These water vapours are condensed and collected in the panel reservoir. Minerals are then added to this water, perfecting it for drinking purposes. To read more about the technological specifications of Hydrosolar Panels, you can click on this link.
A single SOURCE panel array can produce water of up to over 70,000 plastic bottles in the course of ten years with a wastage rate of zero percent! The installation does not stuff the roof with wires or pipes, just a single pipe that connects the panels to the tap. The water produced is pure and free of any chemicals and creates zero plastic bottle wastage.
In September 2019, Cody Friesen was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his invention. He has been using his prize money of $500,000 to make the supply of drinking water possible for all members of the Wayuu community in Colombia, saying of this decision: “The goal is to use this technology to go from a position of water scarcity to water abundance.”
The water scarcity issue in Pakistan has been growing since 2005 and is expected to rise exponentially within the next 5 years by 2025. This issue is even worse in the villages of Pakistan mostly because of the agricultural usage of the water. To reduce this crisis in the villages and the port cities like Karachi, the government of Pakistan should consider using Hydropanels while also encouraging companies to donate to the cause. If we don’t deal with the issue of water scarcity strategically now then it will be too late to handle the issue and Pakistan could end up becoming a wasteland with deserts everywhere.
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Credits: MIT News/Cody Friesen