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Turning fog into potable water in arid Morocco

Rice University students spend their summer in Morocco engineering volleyball-net-like structures to harness potable water from fog in nearby Atlas Mountains.

Six students from Rice University have spent the past month in Morocco figuring out how best to capture drops of water in the foggy Atlas Mountains so that nearby villagers have better access to safe drinking water.

Jamila Bargach's team sets up fog-capturing nets in Morocco. The Baker Institute

Working in Sidi Ifni, Morocco, with the Dar Si Hmad Foundation--which was founded by 1998 Rice graduate Jamila Bargach--the students used structures resembling volleyball nets with a polyethylene mesh to capture tiny droplets of water that drip down the nets into tubes and then (thanks to gravity) down larger pipes that lead to a water storage tank at the bottom of the mountain.

The nets do not harvest enough potable water to meet the needs of an entire city, says 2010 Rice graduate Kevin Liu, who was one of the project's participants. Still, he estimates that the nets, which cost around $1,000 to $1,500 in materials and maintenance and should last a solid decade, "can provide anywhere from 200 to 1,000 liters of water per day for a village."

Before leaving for Morocco earlier this summer, Liu said the team's main goals were to focus on completing the calculations for the designs and locations of the nets, along with developing the required infrastructure for a future Rice group to finish the project next summer." Specifically, Liu said, "Determining the location to position the nets will be especially important for maximizing the efficiency of the nets in regards to the orientation, frequency of fog, and wind speed and direction."

The group's main takeaway, now that they're back: the need to conduct a comprehensive survey to identify local water demand as well as to design and install basins to capture water from fog on vegetation. Another Rice group will likely follow up on both counts next summer.