In the 21st century, two universal truths about water ring true. 1) It’s a source of life. 2) When polluted, it can be deadly—and access to potable water still eludes billions of people in poor and rural areas today.
But what if clean water could be conjured from thin air, materializing from nothingness to fill glasses, bathtubs, and reservoirs as if pure magic? It’s not sorcery, it’s science—and it could very well become a not-so-distant reality. That’s the goal for Arizona-based Source Global, which has engineered what it calls the world’s first truly renewable drinking water system. At its core is the company’s prized innovation: patented hydropanels that harness the energy of the sun to draw water vapor from the atmosphere, which works even in the driest climates on the planet, it claims. Presto—drinking water, like magic.
It’s a compelling quest, and it’s now been backed by Silicon Valley’s own master storyteller Chamath Palihapitiya, founder of Social Capital, who is pledging $7 million of his venture capital fortune to scatter hydropanels across California’s Central Valley. The state, which has been ripped by devastating wildfires and crippling drought, is what scientists call “ground zero” for the climate crisis, and Central Valley—a broad, flat region that composes much of the state’s inner turf—is the epicenter.
It’s even more dire, Palihapitiya explains, because Central Valley is typically a rich agricultural cornucopia that supplies more than half the vegetables, fruits, and nuts grown in the United States. Its output includes 99% of the country’s almonds, 95% of its broccoli, 92% of strawberries, and 90% of tomatoes. Naturally, that requires a ton of water: 5.5 gallons for a head of broccoli; an entire gallon for a single almond.
But in recent years, the dwindling water supply that cycles through the crop fields and into neighboring town faucets has become contaminated with toxic fertilizer, registering nitrate and arsenic levels five and six times the limit for safe consumption. If the crisis worsens, Palihapitiya says, “everybody in the United States is going to be impacted.”
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