Solar-Powered Panels Pull Water Out of the Air for Navajo Families Who Have None

September 17, 2020 at 5:05 pm

Over 50,000 Navajo live without running water (from the tap or otherwise). A new technology could change that by attracting water back to the drought-stricken land.

One in three of the 175,000 members of the Navajo Nation lives without running water. No faucets, no springs, no wells. Many must travel 2+ hours round-trip to buy bottled water, or fill up tanks at distant, contaminated wells.

The average Navajo person uses about 10 gallons of water per day, while people in surrounding cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Albequerque use between 100 and 200 gallons per day each.

That’s because the Navajo Nation has been excluded from key negotiations like the 1922 Colorado River Compact that decided how much water states had rights to.

With coronavirus highlighting the public health crisis caused by lack of clean water, some Navajo families will finally be getting some relief.

A company called Zero Mass Water has partnered with local Navajo governments and Navajo Power, a public benefit corporation, for a pilot project to provide 15 Navajo families with free water, extracted from thin air.

Each family will receive two panels to start, enough to provide 2.5 gallons of water per day. It’s not much, but at least they’ll always have clean drinking water when they can’t get to town. The pair of panels can also store 30 gallons to be saved for a cloudy day when solar-powered productivity may be low.

The solar-powered hydropanels have fans that draw in air from the atmosphere and push it through a hygroscopic (a fancy sponge). From there, the trapped water vapor is extracted and gets condensed into liquid that’s collected in the reservoir of the panel, where it gets re-mineralized for ideal taste.

If the pilot goes well, there are plans to expand the project to more families.

The Navajo Nation received $714 million in CARES Act funding to cover expenses “incurred due to the public health emergency,” such as making sure people have running water to wash their hands.

Every Navajo home in need of water could be outfitted with the hydropanels with less than 10% of those funds, the company estimates.