Paarl-based water company AquaSky has developed an innovative model of bottled water produced from the air, which offers local restaurants, hotels and retailers a renewable and sustainable source of pure bottled water with a difference.
Harvesting water from the clear blue sky without having to wait for rain to fall sounds like a futuristic dream in a country where critical drought is an only too recent memory. But this is what AquaSky, the first atmospheric water generating plant in South Africa, has been doing since 2017. Not only collecting water from the air with their custom-designed machines, but developing an environmentally friendly model of bottling and delivering still and sparkling waters to clients in the hospitality industry who are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. “The main benefit is we’re not depleting any of the earth’s resources,” says founder and managing director Brendan Williamson. “We’re not using the aquifers or pumping out of springs or rivers. It’s from the air and very sustainable.”
How to collect water from the air
Based on a wine farm in Paarl, AquaSky’s atmospheric water generating machines cool and condense the air to extract the moisture, which is present in the air even on a hot day in Paarl’s fierce summers. When Brendan had the idea for AquaSky he looked at machines made all over the world, and ended up working with a South African company in Johannesburg to perfect a machine by developing a system used to adapt to his eco-friendly vision and South Africa’s climate. A prime concern was to keep electricity use to a minimum to maintain a low carbon footprint. “When we developed the machines we looked at all aspects of power use. Our machines read the humidity, read the conditions and fluctuate according to how much humidity there is in the air. By doing so they limit how much electricity they use, so are very economical.” Brendan calculates the usage at around R0.15 to R0.18 per litre in power for the manufacturing, which is on a par with the power used in bottling spring water locally.
So AquaSky’s green processes are established, but does it pass the taste test? That would be a resounding yes, given the number of Cape Town restaurants already among its clients, including Chefs Warehouse, Sea Breeze, Sushi Box, Knead and many more, who appreciate AquaSky water for its pure, clean freshness. “Making our water from the air gives it a totally unique taste which is very neutral on the palate,” says Brendan. “In spring waters you get different tastes, different textures because of the ground quality where it comes from.”
The water goes through a rigorous filtration process down to 0.2 of a micron to ensure purity, and is sterilised through ultraviolet light. “Quality-wise our water is extremely pure and we’ve got a very good ph of 8.3,” says Brendan. “There are minerals in the water, you wouldn’t think so coming out of the air but it has a normal mineral content. It’s totally unique.”
Refillable glass bottles
The environmental dilemma of single-use water bottles is something that AquaSky is determined to solve. “One of our unique points is our refill service – we deliver in glass bottles to the various restaurants, hotels and other establishments and we pick up the empties, wash them, sanitise them and refill them. So we’re taking a single use bottle and turning it around to 25-50 times per bottle.” There is a R2 deposit on each bottle so clients have the incentive to return them. Brendan calculates that sanitising and re-using bottles uses 16 times less energy than recycling them. AquaSky comes in a variety of bottle types and sizes according to client preference. The 100% recycled and refillable glass bottles are offered in 250ml, 440ml and 750 ml sizes.
Compostable plastic bottles
Some clients prefer plastic bottles for various logistical reasons. AquaSky has introduced a compostable plastic bottle made from sugar-cane and is aiming to phase out PET plastic bottles altogether over the next few months. Currently the eco-bottle comes in the 500 ml size with still water and is completely biodegradable.
Another feature that clients love, especially the restaurants, is the option to have glass bottles with their own branding printed directly on the glass, using a long-lasting ceramic ink and baked twice for longevity so they can be used and re-used multiple times with the AquaSky refill service. “We do all the artwork and branding in house for the clients and I think it just makes it neater on the table if it’s in the establishment’s name,” Brendan says. The Aquasky details are on the side of the bottle as well to guarantee provenance. “We look to the customer’s needs and we adapt accordingly. No is not an option, we just say yes and we get it done!”