KAMLOOPS, Canada — Water security and access to safe drinking water are vital to ending poverty. Where water is scarce—such as in arid and semi-arid regions—finding novel ways of accessing and providing fresh water can mean the difference between sustained poverty and nurtured development.
To that end, people have begun harnessing fresh water from fog. Using massive mesh nets, developing communities are now able to ‘catch’ fog and ‘squeeze’ the water right out. At higher altitudes where light winds roll fog through with some regularity, enough water can be squeezed to provide water security for an entire community. In fact, the process has showed so much promise that several independent ventures have started squeezing at a near industrial pace.
Canadian based nonprofit, FogQuest, is in the fog catching business. Using modern fog collectors, FogQuest’s collectors have caught all sorts of fog to bring water to developing rural communities in Chile, Nepal and Guatemala.
One project that is located in Tojquia, Guatemala has had 35 operational Large Fog Collectors since 2006, and they are working magnificently; they have been able to harvest enough fog and collect enough water during the most recent dry season that no trips to distant watering holes were necessary. The household tanks, which store the collected water, were “almost always full of fog water.” And whenever maintenance was necessary, the community has rallied to the repairs.
Direct water security is not the only tangible benefit of harvesting fog; harvesting fog has been able to help support small business ventures, further adding to fog harvesting’s ability to help provide water security.
In Chile, microbrewery Atrapaniebla—Spanish for fog catcher—produces a craft beer using water harvested from two fog collectors. The brewery is one of the first businesses in Chile to use fog water in their production. According to 29-year-old owner, Miguel Ángel Carcuro, “water from fog catchers has less nitrite and nitrate than the drinking water in the north of Chile, which is good for beer.”
While no one is disputing the deliciousness of fog (yum!), development of the technology and its acceptance as a source for water collection had been lagging for a number of years due to limitations with the amount of water that could be collected. However, recent advances by a number of fog catching firms has put to rest any lingering doubts.
Until recently the standard mesh used in fog collectors has been made of polythene. These nets—originally built to provide shade—are being outstripped by a new mesh produced by Kimre. Their product, of the same name, was designed to collect water produced as the by-product of industrial process for use in relatively small spaces. In collaboration with Professor Juan de Dios Rivera of the Catholic University of Chile, Kimre is looking to develop a new fog collector which squeezes more water from the fog it catches.
Other advances in water collection have shown some possible avenues for fog catching entrepreneurs to explore. For instance Chinese researcher Lei Jiang has found that spider silk uses a novel design which is highly effective at collecting water from the air. Studying the Uloborus walckenaerius, Jiang found that spider web uses a system of hydrophilic nanofibrils that turn into knots when wet, allowing for the collection of water. Jian and his team were able to create an artificial spider silk “using nylon fibres coated in a polymer solution that forms knots in a similar way.”
Whether these advance can be incorporated into a fog collector remains to be seen. In any event, the future for fog collection looks bright.
– Pedram Afshar