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A US Firm Is Turning Air into Bottled Water in the UAE Desert

The company could hold the key to producing large amounts of sustainable water in one of the region’s most arid lands, using only renewable energy.

In this week’s news that might take a little bit longer than you’d like to wrap your brain around, an Arizona-based tech firm is turning air in the UAE’s Arabian Desert into drinking water. 

Zero Mass Water, a tech firm specialised in providing clean drinking water to all via sustainable methods, has deployed its technology in the UAE’s barren desert, 20 kilometres outside of Dubai, to basically knead the air’s moisture to create bottled water.

The project is the first of its kind, not in the mechanism of air-turned-water, but in magnitude. The company will use ‘hydropanels’, the firm’s flagship product, to capture water vapour from the air and produce up to five litres a day. Two of these panels are able to make up enough water for one household’s daily drinking and cooking needs.

While there are already deals in place for the bottled water to be bought from Zero Mass, the cost and technology does not yet allow for it to go tête-à-tête with bulk water processors for the foreseeable future. It’s estimated that with the UAE plant’s initial 1,250 hydropanels, each costing around $2,500, will be able to produce about 2.3 million liters annually—a few litres short of the volume of one olympic-sized swimming pool.

“The bottling plant is run on solar, the bottles we use are recyclable, and the caps are sustainable,” said Samiullah Khan, general manager at IBV, an Emirati firm that will buy the water. Given the cost of production, the bottled water will be sold at premium prices, similar to Evian or Fiji, which are locally priced at 10 dirhams ($2.72) a litre.  

Despite it being a little premature to say that each drop is one small step, but also a giant leap for water availability, the technology could create an unmatched headway in the UAE’s agricultural industry. That shift in the country’s landscape would require using sustainable amounts of water, and what better than water that is, quite literally, made from thin air. It would, however, require farming to take place in enclosed environments such as warehouses.

“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.

The technology would offer great leeway for the UAE to bolster its hydroponics agriculture, which is a method of growing plants that requires no soil, only nutrient solutions dissolved in water. The technique is lauded for eliminating the fuss of depending on soil for cultivating crops. So in a region that is looking to minimise food imports, along with the technology to produce sustainable amounts of water, there’s great wiggle room to turn arid lands to non-traditional, eco-sustainable, giant cultivating machines.

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