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Conjuring water from air

A Durban-based water solutions company is manufacturing machines that draw in air, cool it down, and use the resulting condensate to ‘create’ water.

This concept isn’t new, says Water from Air™ CEO, Ray de Vries. It’s been around since the early history of the San people (Bushmen). Later on, it was developed for military purposes in the Middle East and the United States. This evolved over the past decade or two into commercial units being made available. Rural populations use fog collectors and simple condensation devices, which are wonderful, says De Vries, but it produces inconsistent results.

He explains the workings of one of the machines produced by his high-energy company: “Air is drawn in by the machine and cooled, with the resulting condensation dropping into an ultraviolet (UV) lit holding tank to sanitise the water. No chlorine or chemicals are involved in the process whatsoever. The water then goes through a nine-point filtration process and is held in a top tank (also with UV), ready for dispensing. In our machines, the water is dispensed through a UV light to ensure 100% pure water.”

<crosshead> Response from local and international markets

The local market has been very kind to the company, says De Vries. “We are finding business terrific with more than 100 small units sold a month.” He explains that uptake was slow at the beginning in 2015, but this has turned around completely in the past 15 months. “People realise that water is not free. They realise that there is not nearly enough water to go round and that the water we have is full of contaminants such as antibiotics, hormones, heavy metals, antidepressants and other medicines.” He says that water is top of mind because of the severe drought.

He explains that they have an in-house public relations, media and marketing business and that he has been in the game for the past 30 years, doing media and marketing on many different fronts, from managing Zola Budd to building brands like the Dusi Canoe Marathon.

<crosshead> Competition

Some international companies have local agents in South Africa, as well as a few ‘clicks and mortar’ outfits, as opposed to bricks and mortar businesses. By contrast, De Vries says, Water from Air™ designs, manufactures, and assembles mainly on South African soil, with offices and technical backup in most major centres. They also have a revolutionary Skype studio with technicians at hand for audio and visual assistance. The entire business is built on the premise that it is a water-from-air solutions company and not just a machine agent or seller. Their differentiator is ensuring that the people they serve have water at all times, he points out.

<crosshead> Blessing or curse

The business of water can be a blessing or a curse. If the machine is consistent in yield, then it is a blessing. But if there is no warranty, spares, technical backup, maintenance advice, and consistent communication with the supplier, then it is a curse, he says.

Right from the start the company’s process has been about convenience, purity, and quality, he says. For instance, it delivers a machine weighing 50kg door-to-door anywhere in South Africa free and within 72 hours. Internationally, the company delivers door-to-door within three to seven days and the same applies to accessories. The company has a swap in/swap out policy, where it brings a machine in to the premises so that the customer is never without a sustainable water supply.

Everything the company does is about making sure that the machine lasts — it does not want to be in an unnecessary maintenance business — so Water from Air™ makes them fitting from the start. Filter changes are necessary, as is replacing consumables, such as UV lights. Preventative maintenance in the form of servicing and cleaning is essential, he continues.

De Vries explains that the 1 000–1 500ℓ (per 24 hours) machine is sought-after both internationally and locally. It can be mobile or static and features built-in intelligence. Each machine has its own router and IP address so that the company can communicate with it all times.

He says that Water from Air™ has machines in yachts, offices, clinics, and homes. Its latest breakthrough is that in a well-known international hotel in Thailand, Water from Air™ makes the water, bottles it, and supplies it to the hotel. Any water that a guest consumes — be it in the bar, restaurant, conference centre, or room — is water from the air, produced on the premises.

The Coffee from Air company is to be launched soon, which is a corporate offering that serves as a water cooler and coffee machine — all the water being from the air.

“Ours is a ‘seeing is believing’ business. Once seen, tried and tested, the user often becomes a brand ambassador. The benefits are huge: alkaline water that is 100% pure and the softest water you can get on this planet we call home. Also, every litre that we drink from the air is a litre less that we take from the rivers, dams, and reservoirs of our country. There’s nine times more water in the atmosphere than in all the oceans of the world.”

<crosshead> Government’s reaction

Municipalities and government are very keen, says De Vries. Although the government initially focused on the recent municipal elections, there has been a marked difference in their interest since then, he notes.

“Just think: a thousand of our machines making 1 000 litres per day will make enough water for a million people — and this is pure drinking water. This is a solution to this catastrophe.”

<crosshead> The company’s journey

De Vries says that this has been the most exciting journey of his business career over the past 30 years. “We start our working day in the dark and we get home way after dark. We have invested millions and millions in research and development, making our solution the finest it can be.”

“We are not just growing a business; we are building a brand and machines — a legacy. The team we have now is absolutely brilliant. We interview hard so that we can manage easy. We are a no-nonsense business, and we unfalteringly believe that we are changing the destiny of humanity. We are very fussy as to who we work with,” he says.

“My partner Paul Raglan-Smith is the technical whiz. He is in charge of all things technical and manages a superb team who produces results. The Water from Air™ factory, believe it or not, is smaller now than a year ago; yet, we are pushing out more than 10 times the volume and it increases every month. Outsourcing is key: we work with half a dozen manufacturing facilities both locally and internationally.

He says that the planet’s water resources cannot cope with the number of people on it, as there are one billion too many people and for this reason, the company is increasing its capacity all the time. Our goal is to be the biggest exporter of Water from Air™ machines in the world by 2020.

<crosshead> Giving back

“Our Water from Air™ Foundation is our give back. We hold the solution to humankind’s biggest challenge and we want to improve people’s lives a litre at a time. The foundation has been created to provide Water from Air™ machines to rural clinics, schools, and community centres. 

“Our motto is ‘making rain while the sun shines’ — we want to keep making the rain for those who haven’t got the means that the rest of us have. There is a special sparkle in kids’ eyes when you give them the gift of water.

“The threat facing us is much bigger than just not having water — rich people do not sleep well when poor people are thirsty!”

<image>Yes, 1

<Ray de Vries>

<Caption>

Water from Air™ CEO Ray de Vries (also known as the ‘water genie’) with the WFA100, which has the capacity to generate 1 500 litres of water each day.

<Pull quote> “There’s nine times more water in the atmosphere than in all the oceans of the world.”

<Fact checking> Email linked

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