Democratizing water, helping vegetables defend themselves

It always amazes me, when I see brilliantly practical ideas brought to life, that they are not being used all over the world. In this case, how to create water out of thin air, and how to dramatically reduce food wastage. Both have won prizes for their solutions to real problems.

India, the world’s second largest producer of fruit and vegetables, loses $12 billion because 40% of that food is lost before it reaches consumers. Greenpod Labs, which won this year’s Ray of Hope prize awarded by the Biomimicry Institute, is solving the problem by extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by 40 to 60 per cent.

Its team consists of 17 innovators with over 30 years of combined research and operational experience in agriculture and food biotechnology, and their unique targeting for specific plants, cost-effective and easy-to-adopt approach, and plant-based chemistry sets it apart from competitors, the Institute says.

Photo – Biomimicry Institute

Stressed plants release unique volatile compounds that tell neighbouring plants to protect themselves by activating their defense mechanisms, says the Biomimicry Institute. Each plant has a unique composition of these compounds for different stresses, and the biomimicry behind GreenPod Labs’ solution replicates each crop’s unique plant volatile fingerprint to protect the fruits and vegetables after harvest.

Greenpod Labs has commercially launched three products so far in India, working with over 150 customers, and in the coming months, 12 different products for crops will be developed. The $100,000 prize will help the company expand its innovative solution.

“Project Drawdown cites ‘reducing food waste’ as one of the most impactful things we can do to lower the amount of CO2 produced, while at the same time ensuring better livelihoods and nutrition for people around the world,” says Jared Yarnall-Schane, the Institute’s innovation director.

“What won me over is that their nature-inspired solution not only minimizes food waste, but it also improves the health and financial well-being of thousands of farmers across India while conserving freshwater and mitigating carbon loss,” said one of this year’s judges, Andrew Courtney, deputy chief science & innovation officer and vice-president of programs with the National Geographic Society. “This is a powerful business, conservation, and human story that is achieved through a seemingly simple innovation.”

WeDew and Skysource

That phrasing could also apply really well to David Hertz and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, who live high in the Malibu hills on a property they call Xanabu and supply their house, pool, and fire fighting hoses with water harvested from the air.

Their water-generator, WeDew, is based on the laws of condensation. Warm air meets a cool surface and forms water droplets. Their company, Skysource Inc., won the $1.5 million Water Abundance XPrize in 2018, which had been launched at the United Nations in New Delhi in 2016. Out of nearly 100 entries from around the world, they were the only ones to meet all the criteria: Produce at least 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of water a day, at a cost of less than 2 cents per liter, running entirely on renewable energy.

The prize, powered by the Tata Group and Australia’s Aid Program, challenged teams to alleviate the global water crisis with energy-efficient technologies that harvested fresh water from thin air. Essentially, they wanted to democratize the supply of water in a sustainable way.

While opportunities exist to augment currently available fresh water resources, including desalination and wastewater treatment, these approaches have been environmentally destructive and expensive thus far, said the Grand Challenge.

More than 780 million people in 43 countries face water scarcity due to lack of availability, uneven distribution and access, and contamination, said prize lead Zenia Tata. “Using 100% renewable energy, the Water Abundance XPRIZE seeks to create decentralized, affordable access to water, whenever and wherever people need it.”

It is an aim that Hertz has long grasped. He likes to remind people that the Earth and its atmosphere are a closed system in which the amount of water is fixed, even as it changes form as liquid, vapour and ice. “There’s six times more water in the atmosphere than all the rivers on the planet,” he says. “The real challenge is how do you capture this available moisture?”

Sources:

Ray of Hope Prize Awarded to GreenPod Labs for Nature-Inspired Solution to Food Loss. Biomimicry Institute, Nov. 16, 2022

Greenpod Labs website.

Drinking water in short supply? There’s a solution in the air. Christian Science Monitor, Jun. 29, 2022.

Creating water from thin air. XPrize.

With two new competitions, XPrize tackles water scarcity and women’s safety. XPrize, Oct. 24, 2016

Cover image – Jacopo Maia/Unsplash