Meet Cody Friesen, CEO of Source Global. He's on a mission to create water from air.
And meet Frieda. She lives in South Africa and is one of 780 million people in the world today with water scarcity problems.
In this article, I predict how huge water from air will be by 2030 on a scale of 1 to 10 based on looking at:
- The technology needed
- The companies making it happen
- What's to love
- jobs that will be hired.
Water from air will be huge if the three major technology challenges are solved.
Water Absorbent Material
The technology to extract water using water-absorbent material "Maybe Solved" at scale by 2030.
Cody's solution works as follows: he passes air through the absorbent material that you see here.
It is hygroscopic absorbing the water.
The sun's heat then evaporates the liquid
producing this pure drinking water.
Cody's Hydropanels are powered by solar energy, which means that they can be installed anywhere
and produce 4–10 litres, i.e. 1-2 gallons, of clean drinking water, a day.
But it is expensive. A full installation costs $6000.
Atmospheric Water Generation
Another approach is using Atmospheric Water Generation, AWG, technology. This Maybe Solved in a scalable way.
AWG uses energy to lower the air temperature thereby creating and capturing dew. This is similar to the technology behind air conditioners.
Large AWG models produce high quantities of water (up to 10,000 liters per day), but are very energy-intensive, so need to be plugged into a power grid.
Solar-powered versions exist but produce a lot less.
A third technology to extract water from the air is called Fog Harvesting and is solved.
The first recorded use of fog harvesting was with the Incas in the 15th century.
As the wind blows fog through mesh nets that you see here, the water droplets are caught.
Gravity pulls the water down into containers. In other words "catching" the fog.
Fog harvesters can collect three litres of water per square meter of mesh per day
but it only works in foggy parts of the world such as Chile where it's used when making olive oil and beer.
Water from air will be huge if there are unicorns - startup companies that have a valuation of more than a billion dollars and when there's plenty of big established companies.
Cody's company, Source, is on its way to becoming a unicorn. Cody is a Professor of Materials Science and was awarded a half million dollary MIT Prize for Invention in 2019. Source is available in more than 45 countries and it recently raised $50M including from Breakthrough Energy Ventures which has the who's who of billionaires as investors including Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.
SkySource is relatively small but growing. The founder is David Hertz whose love of surfing fuelled his interest in water access. His water generator, WeDew, was one of Time's Best Inventions Of 2020 It burns discarded biomass, such as wood chips, to release water that is captured by Atmospheric Water Gerneration technology with a capacity of 2000 liters per day at a cost of 2 cents per liter.
WaterGen is growing fast. It's an Israeli company funded by the billionaire Michael Mirilashvili who has introduced it to many world leaders. Their units use Atmospheric Water Generation technology also and come in all shapes and sizes as you see here. It produces at a cost of 7 to 15 cents per liter.
One multinational company, Tata Group, is investing but few if any are investing heavily.
Sponsoring a prize
Tata is sponsoring a prize, The XPrize for Water Abundance. It was won by WeDew in 2018.
Now we look at Love. Water from air will be huge if they attract plenty of 5-star ratings and a few 1 stars.
It gets 5 stars because it undoubtedly improves lives. Today, Frieda lives in a water-scarce area.
In 2030, it's very possible that a Source Hydropanel will be generating pure drinking water for her and her family -literally creating water out of thin air.
Already today, Source has eliminated the Wayuu Tribe in Colombia's six-mile daily journey through semi-desert to obtain clean water by installing 156 Hydropanels.
Cody gets 4 stars for reducing plastic usage. Today, Frieda has to buy drinking water in plastic bottles - which she doesn't like doing. With Source, Frieda refills the same bottle each day, contributing to a reduction in the staggering 500 billion plastic water bottles used each year and hence reducing the annual deaths from plastic ingestion of one million seabirds.
Because Cody's process is not yet mass-market affordable, it gets only 2 stars for this. Today, Frieda pays $1 per litre for bottled water and when tap water is available it's 0.15 cents per litre. Cody's solution is capable of producing it cheaper than bottled water at 15 cents per litre.
It requires an initial capital investment of $6000 to install a hydro panel. The key to unlocking the growth will be massively driving the cost per litre down.
If water from air is going to be huge there will be lots of jobs hired and fired.
Water bottlers - people who produce bottled water - will be fired if this process ever gets to mass scale.
On the hired side, because the technology is still in its development stage there are not that many jobs right now being hired.
There is only one job advertised on LinkedIn at the time of recording with Source as a brand ambassador.
But the sector is growing. Keep an eye on LinkedIn if you're inspired by what this industry can do. Helping you make good career decisions is a big reason why I'm doing this Life in 2030 channel. Jobs in new industries like water from air are exciting, rewarding and often more secure than in declining industries.
You could set up some job alerts for these companies. It's easy to do on LinkedIn. Because there's plenty of jobs being hired and fired, from a Jobs point of view, water from air is at the low end of the scale.