In recent years, Chile has witnessed how climate change has impacted ecosystems and water conditions from the far north to Antarctica. With a water deficit of over 60%, Chile is experiencing the longest and most serious drought in its history, with the area between the Atacama and La Araucanía regions the most affected. However, innovations have been developed to face the problem, thanks to the talent, creativity and resilience of Chileans seeking solutions to create a better future. Here are some that aim to combat the water crisis through the distribution, management and even creation of the resource.
Fog catchers: from Chile to the world
Fog catchers are ingenious constructions made of two six-meter-high eucalyptus poles with a polyethylene greenhouse mesh in the center. They can be found on the coastlines of northern Chile and are solving the desert’s most serious problem, water scarcity, by capturing desert fog. The late Chilean physicist, Carlos Espinosa, invented what is recognized as the world’s first fog catcher model, earning him the title of “the professor who caught the clouds”. Chile is considered a pioneer in both the invention and implementation of this technology. Since its inception in the 1960s, it has been developed and perfected, based on the patent obtained by Espinosa, which he himself endorsed for free distribution via UNESCO. This technology has now been imitated in many other Latin American countries and also taken to countries such as Spain, Croatia, South Africa, Namibia, Oman and Yemen.
In Chile, “Un Alto en el Desierto” (A Stop in the Desert), the country’s first network of water harvesters and recyclers, stands out. Based in Ovalle in the Coquimbo Region, they have 28 fog catchers located in the Cerro Grande Ecological reserve, which harvest an average of 1,537 liters of water per day, equivalent to almost 600,000 liters per year. This represents one of the best fog harvests in the Southern Cone.
FreshWater Solutions: turning air into purified water
This venture transforms air into drinking water to curb the drought and reach remote communities that do not have a water supply. They are able to generate 28 liters of water per day. How do they do it? The FreshWater system, created by Héctor Pino, accelerates the natural water cycle by capturing water microparticles suspended in relative humidity, then forming a cloud and making it rain. They are thus able to obtain pristine water that is subsequently passed through a filtering, purification and sterilization process. The result is unlimited, high-quality purified water that does not expire over time. The great thing is that the water is also free of chemicals, preservatives, fluoride and chlorine.
Kilimo: fighting water scarcity in agricultureWhen and how much should you irrigate? This is the question answered by Jairo Trad, Tatiana Malvasio, Rodrigo Tissera and Toni Abdala, who founded this technological platform that uses climate and satellite data to offer recommendations to farmers in order to improve irrigation yields by up to 30%. Climate information is obtained from satellites and their software is integrated with the tools that farmers use on their land. The farmer accesses the platform through a mobile and web app and receives weekly recommendations based on the actual needs of each field, which is updated daily. In addition, they are accompanied by an agronomist throughout the season. Their goal this year is to reach 400 customers in Chile, Peru, Mexico and Argentina, the countries where they currently operate.
https://www.kilimoagtech.com/Capta Hydro: monitoring and automation in water distribution
Surface water, which currently irrigates more than 160 million hectares worldwide, is distributed mainly through irrigation canals. However, water losses can be between 25 and 50%, due to leaks in the earth canals, theft, operational errors and inefficiencies generated by a delivery system based on availability rather than need. For this reason, Chileans Benjamín Lagos, Gastón Dussaillant and Emilio de La Jara identified the pressing need to improve water distribution. They came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to do so is through the implementation of software and hardware to control flow telemetry and gate automation in rivers, reservoirs and canal networks. Thus, Capta Hydro was born, a technology that enables the management and distribution of surface and groundwater resources, improving distribution efficiency, accuracy, transparency and regulatory compliance.
Inti-Tech: solar panel cleaning without water
Sandstorms endanger the efficiency of solar panels, and cleaning them can take up to three months. The process also wastes more than 22 billion liters of water around the world. For this reason, Inti-Tech, a Chilean startup developed by a team of Universidad Católica engineers led by Nicolás Correa, have created robots that clean an entire plant’s solar panels in just five minutes without using a single drop of water. The initiative seeks to address issues derived from the large amount of particulate matter in northern Chile, which can reduce the efficiency of solar photovoltaic plants by up to 40%.
Khreo: Artificial intelligence to save water in mining
Mining is an industry that has always consumed a large amount of water in extraction and recovery processes for different minerals. A pending challenge for a mining country like Chile is to rationalize water use in this industry. That is why the Konatec startup, a group of researchers from the Universidad de Concepción headed by Leopoldo Gutiérrez, has created Khreo. It is an artificial intelligence-based technology that allows for real-time measurement of the flow and deformation of mining minerals so that only the necessary water is consumed in the process. This information allows them to provide recommendations to mining companies, who can then optimize copper recovery, and save water and energy.
Justwe! Water & Energy: optimizing water consumption in businesses and homes
The husband-and-wife team of civil engineer Pedro Bravo and digital marketing expert Marcela Gaete developed an automatic control platform to manage water for companies and homes. It is controlled by an app that can be downloaded to your cell phone, and can save between 15% and 60% in water and energy. This is thanks to a robotic device that intervenes in water and energy connections, controlling flow, pressure and consumption, in order to monitor, establish controls, act and report anomalies. It can also monitor consumption in one or more company branches, control shower times and inlet pressure to the network, manage water flows and check power to avoid fines for electricity overconsumption. This can be very useful for large institutions as well as homes; the company offers the same app adapted to families seeking to reduce both electricity and water bills, and also to avoid wasting this increasingly scarce resource.
Remote Waters: drinking water in every corner of the world
Pablo Cassorla has devised a water purification system that is inexpensive to operate and quick to install for communities with limited access to drinking water. The system consists of a machine that extracts contaminated water from sources such as the sea, wells, lakes or rivers, which it then filters through a membrane. The machines are based on reverse osmosis desalination, a technology that can be used to filter other contaminants in addition to salts, such as boron, arsenic or heavy metals like lead, leaving the water apt for human consumption. To date, the company has seven projects in the Coquimbo, Valparaíso, Metropolitan and Maule regions, and is seeking to expand its operations to other countries.
Nilus Ice Stupa Project: artificial glaciers to increase water resource efficiencyThis Chilean pilot project, developed in the Cajón del Maipo and led by Sebastián Goldschmidt, seeks to create a park of Ice-Stupas (or glacier grafts) to freeze surplus water in times of abundance and store fresh water in solid form for times of scarcity. The Nilus project takes advantage of the freezing temperatures of Chile’s highland areas and mountain peaks to transform water into ice. Water is captured from runoff and sent downhill, where it freezes through a process of temperature difference in areas with large thermal variations between day and night. The team of Chilean researchers in charge of this pilot project estimate that with the formation of 50 “stupas” or artificial glaciers – developed by means of artificial intelligence and algorithms – the goal of accumulating 100 million liters of water in ice will be reached, and could be used to supply a community of approximately 100,000 people for three months.
Atacama Desalination Plant: award winner at the Global Water Awards 2022
This month, the state-owned desalination plant located in Caldera, in the Atacama Region, won the best of the year award at the “Global Water Awards 2022”. The recognition takes into account the ecological and sustainable nature of the facilities, which have been in operation since December 2021. They have the capacity to desalinate 1,200 liters of sea water per second, and to supply drinking water to more than 200,000 people in the municipalities of Caldera, Chañaral, Copiapó and Tierra Amarilla.
Today, thanks to this desalination plant, the Atacama Region – which was under permanent risk of running out of water – is the only region in Chile that has its water assured for the next 40 years. Not only is it the most modern desalination plant in Chile, but it has also incorporated many technological advances in energy efficiency and is environmentally friendly.
Social Entrepreneurship: Chile is the country with the world’s highest per-capita number of certified B Corps