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This Kenyan Startup Is Producing Clean Drinking Water from Thin Air

Majik Water has found an ingenious way to capture the water from the atmosphere, even in arid regions — harnessing a limitless resource and providing a sustainable solution for thousands of Kenyans, with a goal of reaching 100M people by 2030.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of the population increase in the last century; thanks to demographic growth and economic development, an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered — especially in arid regions. UNICEF estimates that 1.42 billion people — including 450 million children — live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability; and that number is projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2025.

In Kenya, 41 percent of the population of 53 million lacks access to basic sanitation solutions; and 15 percent rely on unimproved water sources such as ponds, wells and rivers. With climate change exacerbating the frequency and severity of droughts (the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought since 1981), water sources for people and livestock are becoming more scarce — food and water prices are soaring to unaffordable levels, resulting in rising rates of malnutrition and starvation.

“Kenya is changing. We are experiencing extreme droughts and flooding in different parts of the country, with underground water sources becoming more and more inaccessible,” Beth Koigi, CEO and founder of Majik Water, told Sustainable Brands™. “We need innovations that have an immediate impact and can make a difference.”

Growing up in Kenya, Koigi experienced extended periods of water rationing and droughts. While at university, she frequently fell sick due to the contamination of water in her dormitories. Water filters cost an unaffordable $50; so, she started making her own — using activated carbon. This quickly gained traction and she began producing affordable water filters, costing $1, for low-income families.

But even the best water filters need water to filter; and when the 2016-2017 national drought emergency hit Kenya, Koigi sought a creative solution to continue to provide water to at-risk communities. She teamed up with Canadian environmental scientist Anastasia Kaschenko and Oxford economist Clare Sewell; and together, they began working on Majik Water — a device that harvests affordable and clean drinking water directly from the air, thanks to the fact that there’s an estimated six times more water in the atmosphere than groundwater worldwide.

“Where you have air, you have water,” Koigi says. “Majik Water is providing people who are living in the harshest conditions on the planet with clean drinking water. Innovations like this are essential due to the inherent need and urgency for water all over the world — we can no longer rely on the solutions we have had in the past.”

The startup took its name from the Swahili words maji (water) and kuvuna (harvest), which is precisely what the device does. Humidity is pulled from the air using industrial fans. It is then trapped in silica gel and condensed using refrigerating gas to create liquid water. The water is then mineralized, so that it contains the essential nutrients needed for human consumption. If the air contains contaminants, the water can go through a further RO (reverse osmosis) filter to avoid the proliferation of bacteria.

Powering Majik Water’s machines requires a lot of energy; anticipating this, they were designed to be powered through solar panels or a generator. If needed, they can also be customized to operate on solar energy during the day and on the grid at night.

“We currently have a variety of devices — ranging from small, household units that produce 25 liters a day to large, industrial units that produce 500 liters a day,” Koigi explains. “Additionally, if needed, these devices can be stacked to produce even more.”

The company currently produces 200,000 liters a day for over 1,900 people in Kenya — in addition to providing much-needed hydration, Majik Water also enables a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the need for burning firewood or charcoal to boil water for safe usage. It prides itself on being women-led and run by Africans for Africans; 30 percent of all material used to create the units is sourced from Kenya and the devices themselves are assembled by an almost entirely Kenyan workforce.

Majik’s business model is tailored to its clientele — consisting of corporations, NGOs and individual households. Pricing models for each take into account the demand, location and budget of each client. The pay-as-you-go model allows people living in rural areas to buy a liter of water for as little as $0.01, whilst the monthly subscription is more suited to clients in semi-urban areas, such as corporations and NGOs.

“By 2030, we are hoping to have installments bringing water to 100 million people,” Koigi says. “Partnering with NGOs is essential; because it provides us local links to services already present in the community, in-kind support & knowledge sharing.”

Majik Water’s on-the-ground, customizable solution could not have come at a better time — as the number of vulnerable communities around the world that need an affordable, sustainable way to access clean drinking water will only continue to grow in the coming years.