Since 2013, Adrian Campero and Manuel Arauco have been working together to establish Fogua, a company that will provide local, water-insecure communities in Bolivia with the means to harvest safe drinking water.
Campero was motivated to start Fogua by his experience of growing up in Bolivia and witnessing the many hardships—many of which were linked to water insecurity—he saw Bolivians endure. Worldwide, approximately 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
Fog harvesting is the most efficient method of obtaining safe drinking water for communities that have limited access to drinking water but are surrounded by fog, because fog-harvesting requires no external energy source to operate and produces no harmful byproducts. “It’s basically an untapped source of water that can alleviate water problems for millions of people around the world in a sustainable way,” Campero says.
Campero notes that small-scale fog-harvesting projects are already operating in countries like Chile, India, and Eritrea. “It’s not that we’re coming up with new technology; we’re just trying to improve it and apply it on a larger scale.”
The idea behind the company started with an assignment to design a water-related product for a class taught at Harvard University by David Edwards, founder of Le Laboratoire—a design lab in Paris, France. The inspiration for the fog-harvesting method at the heart of Fogua is drawn from the Namib Desert beetle, whose unique shell allows it to collect water from fog—carried onshore from the sea by the wind—in the middle of the perpetually arid Namib Desert.
The fog water captured in the harvesting nets has undergone rigorous testing that shows that it is clean and safe to drink. According to Campero, the fog water has “an almost neutral pH level, low bi-carbonation, and low mineralization.”
Fogua aims to sell the bottled fog water to individuals and high-end restaurants in Europe. Their research has indicated that Europeans tend to be highly socially-aware and thus more inclined to pay premium prices for a socially responsible product.
“Through the premium bottled water market, we guarantee safe drinking water to communities in need, teach them how to use the technology, and pay all maintenance and administrative costs for as long as a project is needed,” says Campero.
Fogua is partnering with JAINA, a small nonprofit organization that works with local communities near their first test site—where the community project will be located—in Tarija, Bolivia. The town of Pongo—near La Paz, Bolivia—will be the company’s first fog-harvesting site.
Fogua designates areas in the Bolivian Andes that have a high concentration of fog, but no water scarcity issues, as sites where fog will be harvested for bottling. The commercial sites are distinct from the locations where the social projects—community projects that will increase local water security and economic development—will be installed.
Fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale of the bottled fog water will finance the operation of the social projects. The company’s finance model is designed to overcome obstacles to operational sustainability, which Campero says is one of primary issues that plague many water projects around the world.
“Only the first one has to be funded externally,” Campero says. “The idea is that all further social projects will be funded by the company. That’s the idea—that it’s a commercial and social enterprise.”
Fogua will also ensure that the packaging of the fog water will be environmentally friendly—the bottles will be made of glass, and all packaging will be biodegradable.
Currently, Fogua is optimizing the design of the fog-harvesting nets so that they are better able to weather harsh climate conditions—which they hope to complete by July 2014. They are considering replacing the polypropylene mesh currently in use, which can freeze in the wind and break, with a stainless steel model. “On average our mesh captures five square liters of water per day,” Campero says.
Fogua hopes to launch the sale of the bottled fog water and the community projects by September 2014.
Fogua has already identified five other communities that could benefit from fog-harvesting technology. The company is currently working with communities in Bolivia but plans on expanding to other water-insecure regions of the world.
“Some people—mainly women—have to spend hours walking to the nearest water well, and as soon as you provide them with safe drinking water, they have more free time to do other things—to care for their families,” says Campero. “It means fewer diseases and more education and more economic activity—basically a butterfly effect that starts with water.”