Hydropanels: Conservation and Drinking Water
Hydropanels are a leading-edge technology for providing drinking water. Bill Gates has called it a “clever idea I’m watching closely,” and has even invested in their development. But what are they? And how does this relate to conservation? In this blog, we provide an overview of hydropanels, how they are part of conservation, and the hydropanel installation finished in the summer of 2022 by The Conservation Foundation.
A hydropanel is a device that resembles a solar panel that pulls water out of the air, powered only by solar energy. It is designed to provide clean drinking water for people who lack access to it. It is basically a solar-powered dehumidifier with an advanced filtering system, so you drink clean water.
Hydropanels are providing clean drinking water to communities, refugee camps, government offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and homes around the world.
Bill Gates and a coalition of private investors have established Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), which invests in “visionary entrepreneurs, building companies that can have a significant impact on climate change at scale.” The BEV Portfolio includes SOURCE, a provider of hydropanels. One of the goals of their investment is to make the solution more affordable and more scalable. Hydropanels are a leading-edge technology with enormous potential.
Hydropanels and Conservation
But how does this relate to conservation? Before we answer that, let’s briefly describe how hydropanels work.
As shown in the above picture, it is a 3-step process:
- Ambient air is drawn in, and its water vapor (or, in other words, humidity) is absorbed by engineered materials. These absorbent materials are called hygroscopic.
- Solar heat desorbs the water vapor. This allows the vapor to condense and flow into a reservoir at the base of the panel.
- Water is pumped from the reservoir through a polishing cartridge to a tap or water dispenser. This filtering system removes any potential impurities from the water. The result is drinkable water.
Like rain barrels and other stormwater management systems, hydropanels collect water without depletion of groundwater, aquafers, and wells. There is one significant difference. Whereas rain barrels and other means of irrigation are primarily used for gardening and other non-potable applications, hydropanels produce safe, clean drinking water. Regardless, all of these are ways to protect the current water supply – which is at the heart of water conservation.
The Conservation Foundation Hydropanels Project
To educate the public on the conservation benefits of hydropanels, The Conservation Foundation has mounted two pairs of SOURCE hydropanels – one pair on the McDonald Farm in Naperville and one on the Dickson-Murst Farm in Montgomery. The picture above shows those at the Dickson-Murst Farm with regular solar panels in the background. Inside each hydropanel is a solar powered pump that feeds a line to a drinking water dispenser. People will be able to have a drink of water that came from the sky! In fact, I personally had the honor of trying water from the new hydropanels at The Conservation Foundation and it was so refreshing!
The Conservation Foundation is dedicated to a comprehensive approach to conservation. The Conservation Foundation already has a 25,000-gallon on-site rainwater harvesting and storage system used to irrigate the organic vegetables at the McDonald Farm. They sell rain barrels and collaborate with developers to encourage stormwater best management practices and provide for long-term, funded management of those practices through their Natural Areas Assurance Program.
This hydropanel project further advances The Conservation Foundation’s efforts by demonstrating the art of the possible, educating students and other members of the public, and inspiring innovation for future conservation efforts. For more information about SOURCE and how hydropanels work, scan the QR code above.
By becoming a member of The Conservation Foundation, you can help provide funds for similar leading-edge projects. Become a member today!
Feel free to comment on this blog with your thoughts on conservation and hydropanels.
By Steve Stawarz, Oak Brook
DuPage County Advisory Council Member
The Conservation Foundation would like to recognize and thank the Timken Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley for the funding for these hydropanels. Steve Stawarz, a member of The Conservation Foundation and a member of our DuPage County Advisory Council, also deserves recognition as he was the one who originally proposed this idea for the farm.