On the slopes of Mt. Boutmeziguida in southwest Morocco, a series of mesh nets, strung between tall posts, stand straight up from the rocky terrain. Measuring around 17,000 square feet, the nets act like a massive spider web, trapping up to 36,000 liters of water in a 24-hour period, supplying 800 people with their drinking needs.
The technology, called CloudFisher, does this by pulling dew from the air, and funneling the drops into collecting troughs at the base of the net. The Anti-Atlas mountain range in Morocco, where the nets are strung, “has the ideal conditions for fog water production,” says Peter Trautwein, the CEO of Aqualonis, the Munich-based company that developed the CloudFisher technology. The area is one of the driest in Morocco, but the fog swirling around the mountains, Trautwein realized, could be leveraged to combat the region’s drinking-water shortage.
Through the local NGO Dar Si Hmad, the CloudFisher began a two-year test run in 2013; the technology, which won the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Momentum for Change award last year, will be upgraded to the latest version this year.
Like many desertified areas of North Africa, the region around Mt. Boutmeziguida struggles with access to fresh drinking water. The World Heath Organization estimates that a community needs about 20 liters of water per person to supply agriculture and livestock, in addition to drinking water. Even a small CloudFisher installation could alleviate some of the pressures of seeking out a reliable source in a region where wells are drying up.
Through WasserStiftung, the German water foundation that distributes the Aqualonis technology, Trautwein had overseen the installation of similar fog-catching nets in Eritrea in 2007 and 2009. Though the nets were not able to withstand the high winds (something the CloudFisher has now corrected), the pilot taught Trautwein something important: Access to water, in some parts of the world, means time for education. In Eritrea, before the collecting nets were destroyed by the wind, young girls–who by and large are responsible for water collection–finally had time to go to school. When they couldn’t rely on the nets, they had to spend four to six hours per day collecting water instead.
In Morocco, Trautwein says, the CloudFisher is already having a positive effect: People are beginning to grow vegetable gardens in their homes, and health in the local villages is improving.
Given the success of the technology in Morocco, Aqualonis sees potential for the nets to be installed in similarly dry, fog-swamped regions around the world, from Australia to Chile to California. Even as water conservation efforts ramp up around the globe, access to fresh drinking water will remain a priority, and the potential of unconventional sources–like fog–is just beginning to be understood.
[Photos: Peter Trautwein/WasserStiftung/Aqualonis]