At some point while standing on the roof of an old car dealership in Scottsdale, Arizona, I noted that it was hot outside. Almost as if on cue, our cameras began to overheat and shut down.
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.