Connecting Waterpeople

Robert Bartrop: "Scientists have been able to develop entirely new resources of drinking water"

  • Robert Bartrop: "Scientists have been able to develop entirely new resources of drinking water"
    Robert Bartrop, Chief Revenue Officer of SOURCE Global.
  • Using their Hydropanel sustainable water technology that uses the sun’s energy to extract water from the air, SOURCE’s renewable drinking water system provides clean, safe water, made off-grid, almost anywhere in the world.

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The world’s first renewable drinking water system.

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The availability of safe drinking water is a concern in many areas of the developed and developing world. In late 2020, Zero Mass Water was rebranded as SOURCE Global, PBC, a Public Benefit Corporation, a designation that underlines the company’s mission: to make a long term, positive impact on society and the environment by providing clean, safe drinking water solutions onsite. Their unique technology can extract water vapour from the air in a wide range of climates using sunlight, producing high-quality drinking water. In this interview, Robert Bartrop, Chief Revenue Officer of SOURCE Global, reflects on the issues around water provision in underserved communities in the U.S., and the role of technology and innovation to deliver new sources of drinking water.

Question: Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role in SOURCE?

Answer: I have a history of working in disruptive technology, renewable energy, and sustainable infrastructure, which ultimately led me to my current role as CRO at SOURCE Global, PBC. At SOURCE we look to partner with people, companies and institutions who need a source of clean, resilient, sustainable drinking water. I’ve been with SOURCE for more than four years, and it’s fantastic to be part of a motivated team that is confronting a number so the world’s biggest issues – water, climate change and the abundant use of single use plastics.

Q: How would you describe the current state of water infrastructure in the United States?

A: Water infrastructure in the United States is complicated and inconsistent. While many major cities like New York and San Francisco have good reason to proud of their drinking water, there are also tens of millions of homes that are do not have access to clean drinking water at the household level. One reason for this is that the design of our water infrastructure is heavily centralised and reliant on Roman-era solutions that do not effectively supply regional towns, farms and tribal areas. Our wells, pumps, pipes and treatment plants are aging and, increasingly, breaking, an issue that disproportionately impacts rural and underserved communities.

At SOURCE we look to partner with people, companies and institutions who need a source of clean, resilient, sustainable drinking water

Millions of Americans rely on domestic wells that are contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic, iron and lead, as well as man-made contaminants like nitrates from farming. We are overdrawing our groundwater resources, while climate change, drought and increasing floods are making the situation worse. We urgently need to support public water systems in embracing innovation and building a more resilient, decentralised water delivery system.

Q: The Biden Administration recently announced a $111 billion proposal for water systems. Do you think the plan is ambitious enough?

A: The plan outlined by the Biden administration highlights the size and importance of the problem at hand. The core elements of the plan – replacing the country’s lead pipes and service lines – will take decades and require large amounts of funding. We need to reframe how we are thinking about solutions to our nation’s water problem – finding and funding ways that take the concerns and limitations of infrastructure out of the equation.

Specifically, we would like to see a greater emphasis on extending water solutions for households and communities that are not currently being served, increasing the utilization of non-traditional sources of water and confronting the reality of our reliance on single-use plastics and water delivery for every-day drinking purposes.

Q: How will the American Jobs Plan affect the water working force?

A: After an incredibly difficult 2020, it’s great to see that the Biden administration is creating new jobs in the water industry to help execute its plan of eliminating lead pipes and relaying service lines. However, we hope the Biden administration will go a step further, making sure that the jobs created are rooted in innovative technologies and train workers in solutions that will eliminate outdated practices and allow the industry to move faster.

Q: During his speech, President Biden said: “Too often, investments have failed to meet the needs of marginalized communities.” This is often the case of rural communities. What solutions can be implemented to improve drinking water systems in these types of communities?

A: Rural communities have always been underserved, and climate-induced droughts and flooding are exacerbating the problem. We are heavily engaged in these communities – from farms in Central Valley, CA, to the mountain towns of Appalachia, to the colonias of South Texas and most places in between.

A good example is Allensworth, CA, has been suffering from poor water quality for over 100 years, with arsenic levels measuring 60% higher than state-defined safety levels for drinking water. This crisis forced Allensworth residents to travel to the next county to buy water in single-use plastic bottles or five-gallon jugs, an expensive solution with many environmental ramifications.

We need to support public water systems in embracing innovation and building a more resilient, decentralised water delivery system

This is not a standalone issue as 40% of our nation’s 50,000 community water systems have had similar quality violations, according to the EPA. And, according to a recent study commissioned by SOURCE, just a third of the American public feels confident about the quality of water coming out of their tap.

Creating and implementing new, innovative solutions in rural communities, in partnership with local and regional water systems, will be crucial to make meaningful change. Recently, we worked with leaders of Allensworth to outfit its community center with Hydropanels that will produce the equivalent of 43,800 bottles of water over its lifetime, with no plastic waste.

Q: What role can innovation and digitalization play in water infrastructure renewal?

A: Just as solar and wind have given us clean, renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, technology can give us renewable answers for water.

Using the principles of renewables, scientists have been able to develop entirely new resources of drinking water, independent of geography or infrastructure and produced and delivered where people live. At SOURCE, that means using our Hydropanels to pull clean drinking water out of the air and convert it to clean drinking water – operating off-grid, requiring no electricity, and removing single-use plastic bottles often relied on in water-scarce or containment areas out of the equation. Solutions like this is what our industry needs to see more of and we need to work together to put them in place.

Q: What differentiates SOURCE from other water companies?

A: SOURCE is a unique technology for several reasons. First, we produce clean water using sunlight and air – no external power or water required. Alternative water solutions are typically based around treating and/or transporting water from existing surface and ground sources, which are not accessible to everyone. Second, we produce that water where you need it – meaning we don’t rely on trucking, piping or walking. Third, our water is made pure and mineralized with calcium and magnesium for taste, which make it a viable and sustainable alternative to bottled water at a small fraction of the cost. Nothing is more fundamental than access to safe drinking water, and we are on a mission to make drinking water an unlimited resource with technology that can produce it sustainably, reliably and in humid or very dry climates.

Q: How does the Hydropanel water technology work? Can you describe some case studies where it is used?

A: SOURCE Hydropanels use the power of the sun to extract clean, pollutant-free drinking water from the air. The core technology is a function of thermodynamics, materials science, and controls technology, including multiple patented inventions. We then design solutions to meet water needs – whether it be a rooftop system for a household, a larger array providing drinking water for a real estate development, or a larger system providing drinking water for an entire community.

We hope the Biden administration will go further, making sure that the jobs created are rooted in innovative technologies

We are regularly reminded that school students are amongst the most vulnerable people in the community when drinking water is threatened. SOURCE has been used around the world as a resilient, sustainable and impactful solution for schools – including Texas, Arizona, drought-affected schools in Australia, hurricane-impacted schools in Belize, contaminated schools in Vanuatu and historically underserved schools in South Africa.

Q: Could you comment on SOURCE’s work beyond the United States?

A: SOURCE currently operates in more than 50 countries around the world. Most recently, the team broke ground in Saudi Arabia as the official bottled water of The Red Sea Project, which will be the most sustainable tourism destination on earth. The Red Sea will initially be provided to the 600 employees and operators who are architecting, constructing, and bringing the site to life. When the eco-luxury resorts open, SOURCE will be served to guests as the first sustainable bottled water inside and out.

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