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Remote island off East Timor turns sunlight, air into drinking water

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 13 December 2019 12:21 GMT

Zero Mass Water's hydropanels on Atauro island, near East Timor, in the summer of 2019. Credit: Zero Mass Water

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Innovative scheme uses solar power to suck water out of the air to provide a small community with a renewable supply of drinking water

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Villagers on a tiny island off the coast of East Timor who have long struggled with water shortages have secured regular fresh supplies, using just air and the power of the sun.

The innovative scheme uses solar power to suck water out of the air and make it drinkable, with the aim of reducing plastic waste and providing the small community on the wildlife-rich island of Atauro with a renewable supply of drinking water.

"The people living on Atauro have not had the opportunity to drink clean water that is not packaged in plastic," said Rob Bartrop, chief revenue officer at Zero Mass Water the U.S. technology firm behind the scheme.

"For the first time ... they have a renewable source of water they can rely on," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Zero Mass Water's hydropanels on Atauro island, near East Timor, in the summer of 2019. Credit: Zero Mass Water

Population growth and climate change are putting increasingly intense pressure on the planet's limited water supplies, with worsening shortages emerging from the Middle East to Asia and Latin America, researchers said last month.

Like many similar islands in the region, Atauro lacks water infrastructure, leaving its 10,000 inhabitants reliant on rainwater and bottled supplies shipped in to meet their needs.

The new project, run with the U.S. non-profit Conservation International, began operating in June and uses a material to absorb or suck water out of the air which is then turned into clean water.

In addition to reducing Atauro's plastic water bottle waste, the project produces 12,000 litres of drinking water per month.

Zero Mass Water's hydropanels on Atauro island, near East Timor, in the summer of 2019. Credit: Zero Mass Water

Zero Mass Water's technology is now being used in schools, homes and businesses more than 35 countries, but the Atauro project is one of the first to be designed to serve an entire community's drinking needs.

"We hope that there is a lot of scope to replicate and expand in surrounding parts of the region," said Bartrop.

(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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