Bill Gates and Blackrock backing Source Global, maker of hydropanels

They’re like solar panels, except instead of electricity, they produce water.

Source Global’s hydropanels create water out of thin air and bring it where it’s most needed. CEO Cody Friesen invented the panels in 2014 at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, where he’s on the faculty.

A year later, he turned the science into Source Global. The start-up’s panels cost about $2,000 a piece.

“We take sunlight and air and we can produce perfect drinking water essentially anywhere on the planet,” Friesen said. “And so we take water that has been probably humanity’s greatest challenge and turn it into a renewable resource that is essentially historically perfect.”

Source’s hydropanels take in water vapor from the air and pack it into a form that’s about 10,000 times more concentrated than in the atmosphere. Using the warmth of the sun, the system converts the molecules into liquid water, which is collected in a reservoir inside the panel and then released as pure water.

By 2018, Friesen had installed an array of 40 hydropanels in Kenya, where members of the Samburu Girls Foundation faced daily danger on their journeys to find water. They now have their own water source.

“We can now make perfect water, at your home, at your school, in your community in a way that is really bringing it into the 21st century,” said Friesen.

Source’s hydropanels are installed in 52 countries in 450 separate projects. The company has raised $150 million from investors including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, BlackRock, Duke Energy and the Lightsmith Group.

This type of technology is desperately needed in places like India, where an estimated 800,000 villages don’t have clean drinking water. Friesen cited World Health Organization, showing that by 2025 “half the world’s population will be in water stressed areas.”

There’s a domestic need as well. In the US, there are 1.5 million miles of lead pipes still in the ground, and about 750 water main breaks a day, according to Friesen. The business opportunity, he said, is enormous.

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