"This is one of the best beers that I have ever tried," says Andrés Barrera. My friend is enjoying a craft beer called Atrapaniebla — Spanish for fog catcher — an ale made with water condensed from mountain fog on two fog catchers. The microbrewery that produces it, located in Peña Blanca (some 360 kilometres north of Santiago, the Chilean capital), is one of the first Chilean enterprises to make use of fog-catching technology; others use it to water tomato and aloe vera crops.
"Water from fog catchers has less nitrite and nitrate than the drinking water in the north of Chile, which is good for beer," says Miguel Ángel Carcuro, 29-year-old co-owner of the microbrewery that makes Atrapaniebla.
Of course, while beer is nice, water is essential and fog catchers can be a great way to provide this sometimes scarce commodity. Carcuro's interest in this technology stems from teenage travels with his father, who showed him a hill above the bay of Chungungo, where there were the remains of fog catchers that had until recently provided water for 100 families.
Fog catchers, fine mesh nets erected on foggy hillsides, capture tiny droplets of water from fog that later, when enough droplets have been caught, drip down into gutters. This fresh water can be stored in tanks. Fog catching has been used in Chile for human consumption and watering for more than 50 years, mostly at altitudes of 600 to 1,200 metres above sea level.
Recent innovations, such as the development of probes to find the best places to install fog catchers and novel mesh fabric promise to boost water capture further.
And now scientists are on the cusp of moving this activity from an artisanal to an industrial level, with a range of experiments underway in Chile to improve the cost-effectiveness of harnessing fog for fresh water.
Around 2,000 kilometres of the Chilean coast — from south of Arica (Chile's northernmost city) to south of Santiago and including the Atacama Desert, one of the driest areas of the planet — could benefit from this technology.
But other areas could benefit, too. Canadian charity Fog Quest, for example, has already installed fog catchers in other arid and semi-arid places in Latin America and the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti and Peru), Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Morocco and Namibia) and Asia and the Middle East (Nepal, Oman and Yemen).
Continue reading at ENN affiliate SciDev.Net.
Fog image via Shutterstock.