Transforming Desert Air into Water

A plant in Dubai will bottle water-from-air.

Aug 11, 2020


Transforming Desert Air into Water | A plant in Dubai will bottle water-from-air.

The Arabian desert is a hauntingly magical place filled with large expanses of sand dunes and covers 2,330,000 square kilometers. But far from being empty, this land of Ali Baba and Aladdin is now home to a tourist industry that features desert camps to experience Bedouin culture and a water bottling plant.

There isn’t a large oasis there, in the United Arab Emirates just outside Dubai there is a plant being constructed to bottle drinking water that is made from the hot desert air. But it’s not magic.

An American firm Zero Mass Water is setting up a water bottling plant in the village of Lehbab, 20 kilometers from Dubai, according to Dubailad. And it is completely sustainable. By using solar energy, recyclable glass bottles, and bamboo caps, they are fashioning a feasible solution to desalination; the method used by Israel, Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries to produce drinking water.

“The bottling plant is run on solar, the bottles we use are recyclable and the caps are sustainable,” Samiullah Khan, general manager at IBV, told Bloomberg News.

Zero Mass’s Source Hydropanels makes, stores, and dispenses clean mineralized water out of air. It runs on a simple premise. The solar panels convert sunlight into energy that heats an internal sponge-like material to produce condensation that is collected in a 30-liter reservoir. After the water is filtered (for dust and other impurities) and minerals are added, it is pumped into a refrigerated fill station.

This technology has been used in homes in the American Southwest, schools globally and after Hurricane Maria, the company donated panels to Puerto Rico. Now, a larger installation is being used in the UAE. There have already been some smaller installations by Zero Mass in the UAE in desert experience camps.

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This technology isn’t going to rival large water processes, at least not now. The new plant will only produce 2.3 million liters (607,000 gallons) according to Bloomberg.  The plant is being built with 1,250 hydropanels, each of which costs $2,500, but the plan is to eventually have around 10,000.

For now, the glass bottles of water will cost around 10 dirhams ($2.72) a liter, the same price as fancy imported waters. IBV, owned by a member of the UAE royal family, will sell the bottled water to hotels and other buyers, said Khan.

Since the demand for bottled water is growing in the UAE, this venture should be a big success. But there is also larger potential use for this water from air technology; agriculture.  

“The next thing is really about producing water for growing tomatoes and other things locally so you don’t have those transportation costs and cash flowing out of the economy to buy food,” said Cody Friesen, founder of Zero Mass.

Water from air can be used for farming in enclosed areas like greenhouses using hydroponics and it is already being done on a small scale in the UAE. All that is needed now is the ability to scale up to the large indoor farming being done in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan.

Even though these projects are small, anything that reduces the import of food and water from abroad will be much more sustainable and will help the UAE continue to transition from a fossil fuel economy into a diversified and more earth friendly one.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.