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Forget 'raw water' - there's a safer off-grid alternative to the dangerous craze sweeping Silicon Valley

Forget 'raw water' - there's a safer off-grid alternative to the dangerous craze sweeping Silicon Valley

Live Water

Live Water

Live Water is a startup selling 2.5-gallon jugs of untreated water for $36.99.

  • Unfiltered, untreated, un-sterilized spring water, marketed as "raw water," is becoming more popular in Silicon Valley.
  • Some "raw water" proponents have misconceptions about the tested safety of tap water in most areas in the United States. Experts say drinking untreated drinking water can lead to serious health consequences.
  • Other off-grid water startups are promoting filtered water pulled from vapor in the air.

The demand for "raw water" - unfiltered, untreated, un-sterilized spring water - is apparently skyrocketing in San Francisco, as The New York Times reported last week.

Not every company in the off-grid water space preaches drinking unfiltered water, however. Zero Mass Water makes a type of solar panel array, called Source, that pull drinking water from vapor in the air. The system still filters the water and adds minerals to it.

At Rainbow Grocery, a co-op in the city's Mission District, a 2.5-gallon, glass orb of untreated water sells for $36.99. Proponents of "raw water" are particularly concerned about tap water because fluoride is added (which has been shown to improve dental hygiene) and some tap water flows through lead pipes.

Meanwhile, several health experts have warned that drinking untreated water can have serious health consequences. Even from the cleanest streams, unfiltered water can contain animal feces and spread diseases and contaminants including Giardia, Hepatitis A, cholera, and E. coli.

The hunt for off-the-grid water in the United States is not new, but several startups have popped up in recent years. A few of the most popular include Tourmaline Spring in Oregon (which bills its untreated water as "sacred, living water") and Live Water in Maine (which calls its product an "ancient life source").

A different type of off-grid water

Though Zero Mass has installed Sources everywhere from multimillion-dollar mansions in California to an orphanage in Lebanon, the company's goal is to make clean water easily accessible to more people around the world, according to CEO Cody Friesen. Zero Mass launched in late 2015, and Source became available in the US in late 2017.

Zero Mass Water

Zero Mass Water

Cody Friesen, CEO of Zero Mass Water, a startup that makes solar-powered systems that harvest and treat water from vapor in the air.

Comprised of proprietary materials, the panels use sunlight to produce heat, which allows them to collect water vapor from the air. Friesen wouldn't disclose what the materials are, but said they are ideal for attracting humidity.

"Our technology pulls pure water from vapor in the air, yielding clean drinking water and leaving out any other materials. This is the opposite of 'raw water,' which is essentially untreated ground or surface water, which almost certainly contains any number of pathogens," a spokesperson from Zero Mass Water said.

Each panel costs $2,000 (plus a $500 installation fee) and generates an average of two to five liters of water daily, depending on humidity and sunlight. Source can work anywhere, and many arrays are deployed in deserts where water is scarce, Friesen said.

There are competitors in this space. Another similar water generator, the Off Grid Box, was developed by an Italian company in 2017. Like Zero Mass, the Off Grid Box uses solar panels and condensation to collect water from the air.

It's comprised of a 216-square-foot shipping container with a solar array on top. Once the extracted water is sterilized, the system deposits it into a storage tank inside the box. Off Grid Boxes are currently only available for preorder, but they were deployed in several areas in Rwanda and Puerto Rico last year.

Off Grid Box

Off Grid Box

An Off Grid Box in Puerto Rico, November 2017.

Since 2000, NASA has also used atmospheric condensation in space stations, and the agency is working toward designing a device that will produce clean water from the Martian atmosphere.

While "raw water" may be sweeping Silicon Valley, there are clearly safer alternatives for those who don't want to drink traditional tap water.