• B. Daems

Unlocking the ‘other’ water source

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

In a captivating article 'Time to tap into water technology' Dr. S. Adams, an executive manager at the Water Research Commission in South Africa, wrote how we need to unlock more water resources but also drive efficiency in our existing supplies if we want to keep stimulating the economy and a steady job growth.

We decided to write down our thoughts to, hopefully, open a discussion on the matter. The article referred specifically to groundwater as a solution for South Africa’s water foes like the current one in Cape Town - sometime during the summer of 2018 residents are expecting the day when almost all the taps in the city will run dry - but it could be valuable for any coastal town or area that suffered from extreme drought. (Ref. California’s recent water crisis)

The article rightfully blames the main reasons for the change in behavior between distributors and consumers of water to climate change. And it is absolutely true that when rainfall, our largest input into our water resources, becomes more inconsistent or variable in time and space, we definitely need to address the importance of managing what we have with care.

“The world faces a looming water disaster, one that could dry out our food systems. Even as climate change disrupts rainfall patterns, global water demand is projected to increase by 55% by 2050.” - Maxwell Gomera - March 2018

However, we think that, when talking about water, a differentiation has to be made in terms of the actual quality of the water that is needed for various types of use.

As the two sides on the supply and demand axis continue to blame each other for mismanagement and over-consumption, while at the main time fresh water becomes more and more scarce, we are again convinced that it is high time to start thinking differently about our water sources.

The author of the article points out that traditional and established means of water supply or distribution might have worked well some time ago, but that with a continuously expanding population and so many challenges to reach remote or scattered communities the servicing of water has become increasingly more difficult. We totally agree with the author that the concept of water distribution in general needs radical transformation too.

This brings us to the main standpoint of our post - that we have to start looking at another available water resource: the water that is present in the air.

It is correct that local politics or slacker management by so-called “dysfunctional” municipalities that sit idle on top of exploitable groundwater areas are an issue in certain countries. Dr. S. Adams claims that in many cases these municipalities rather choose to build dams and keep overlooking the possibility to use groundwater as a valid solution on purpose. Although in some cases this might be very true, we believe that the scenario of mismanagement and negligence is too generalist. We were wondering if everyday people know anything at all about the existence of groundwater resources in their area?

Adams then continues to sum up some of the root causes why a choice of building a dam often wins over the exploitation of existing groundwater. We’d like to mention here that building a dam probably was and still is, one of ‘the’ main solutions. But a dam has to be maintained so that it can keep its nominal capacity. A huge question of large infrastructure management.

“Firstly, groundwater is an invisible resource to the layperson”. The author claims that it is difficult to determine the volume of a groundwater source as opposed to that of a dam. He blames it on a perception problem about how much water could potentially be produced by both sources. In our opinion, this perception might be influenced by the cultural or educational level of the population.

“Secondly, it has a lower capital expenditure cost compared to dams but a higher long-term operational cost.” At this point, the author explains that often municipalities tends to prefer engaging in short-term capital expenditure projects. They also prefer receiving piped water from another Water Services Provider, for example, to remove the planning and logistics costs from their budget. This is not unique to the case of water distribution though, but it is partially due to the fact that in these particular fields the decisions are often taken by politicians with short term vision.

Thirdly, the author also refers to the difficult task of operating, maintaining and managing the distribution and abstraction systems depending on the response of the aquifers. He also writes that where groundwater is a conjunctive or sole source of supply, the management is often poor or absent.

Groundwater abstraction is the process of taking water from a ground source, either temporarily or permanently. Most water is used for irrigation or treatment to produce drinking water. Depending on the environmental legislation in the relevant country, controls may be placed on abstraction to limit the amount of water that can be removed. Over-abstraction can lead to rivers drying up or the level of groundwater aquifers reducing unacceptably. The science of hydrogeology is used to assess safe abstraction levels.

Again this last point refers to a lack of management and know-how when groundwater has been chosen as an option, we are facing the problem that Value Engineering and Global Life Cycle Cost are probably not considered. This is a systematic method for identifying the function of a product or service, to establish its worth, and generate alternatives to provide the required function at the least life-cycle cost. This isn’t any different in other domains of public investment.

We fully agree with the author though when he concludes the following:

This is clearly a recipe for disaster and points to poor governance provisions. When a groundwater scheme fails, the tendency is to blame the resource as unreliable while the real reason is poor management and institutional arrangements. The myth that groundwater is always cheap to manage, available in exploitable quantities all over the place, always potable and free are some of the factors that create the perception that it needs limited management.”

For Dr. Adams groundwater is just one example of us not using what is available. We can improve our water security, while demands keep growing, by adding under-utilized resources to other water supply solutions like the reuse of wastewater, and the harvesting of rain and storm water.

At the same time, he emphasizes that we need to overhaul the deterioration of the water infrastructure as a whole.

After reading the valid points laid out by Dr. Adams in the article on South Africa’s water foes we may want to linger on a few thoughts:

  1. We already mentioned that this situation is not an exception and that many places in the world could face similar problems.

  2. The management flaws and failures that were described are easy to find in other countries too. Poor maintenance of the infrastructure, political influenced biases at the time of the tender, the lack of Value Engineering, and good planning.

  3. The type of resources that were considered to mitigate the actual situation is too limited. Water treatment could be more emphasized as a solution, as is taking into consideration the water content of the air.

  4. The distribution infrastructure needs to be directly linked to the actual type of water resource.

Our solution: An energy and potable water source available anywhere, anytime.

We would like to extend our conclusion by unlocking yet another valid source of drinking water. The atmosphere.

In certain situations, when other sources are scarce, the production of water from the atmosphere may be the only possible way to find drinking water. We are in favor of a scalable independent solution for drinking water, as we aim at reducing the enormous cost of large infrastructures. In principle, we are against building a supply infrastructure itself, and we believe that the distribution network of water should be transformed. Off-grid & partial on-grid deployable solutions are offered as solution.

The process through its performance highlights the respect we have for the end user, the people, it is economically affordable, sustainable, easy to use and only requires very light maintenance. It is like offering a life insurance for potable water.

The purpose of our development is first to unlock social development in the areas where the health of the population is a priority, especially when they find themselves in an isolated situation. Secondly, we are protective of the environment with the clean and sustainable character of our solution.

Our solution is autonomous and works very well for stand-alone entities (person/residence/facilities):

  1. Humanitarian relief situations

  2. Mobile supply of fresh drinking water

  3. Personal wearable energy and water source

  4. Off-grid residential servicing

At Fountair we developed an autonomous, clean & sustainable unit to produce drinking water everywhere in the world, at any time. Our solution uses Active Water Condensing Devices (AWCD), with which it is possible to guarantee a reliable supply of abundant and relative constant water, subject to sufficient hygrometry and ideal air temperature.

The extracted water has been tested by independent water experts and consultancies and is classified as ‘good quality water, suitable for human consumption’. The water is not mineralized however minerals can be added to the water post filtration, either by your plant engineers or by our process.

Our production depends on light and air in movement harvesting to produce electrical power. We also use the purified air in a process where the moisture is extracted to produce water that we can treat so that this water can be offered as pure potable water.

This process only uses natural, renewable energy, light and air. No additional products are necessary to run our process. It is clean and sustainable.

Our solution is simultaneously a hybrid power source that produces clean, sustainable energy (Availability=1). So, in fact, it is an additional energy source with external plugging for other devices.

Important parameters to be highlighted

  1. No connection of any kind is necessary for the production; however, the system is connectable to a network if needed.

  2. Our process is built to perform anywhere, at any time.

  3. Therefore the availability of the production A is = 1, so 100%

In extreme situations, when not only human life is at danger but natural resources become scarce to the point of disaster, the production of water from the air may be a good way to produce essential drinking water. This is especially so when the area shows sufficient for high hygrometry and favorable air temperatures. Cape Town’s air humidity peaked at 97% at the moment of writing this article.

Water distribution infrastructures are of course directly linked to the actual type of water in demand. There is a huge difference in approach needed between the demand for drinking water and the demand for agricultural irrigation for example. In the case of drinking water different, more ‘independent’ or ‘personal’ solutions could be found that remove or reduce the need for large infrastructure.


Original article:

Cape Town’s crisis shows us the real cost of water

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