Drinking a glass of water, watering the garden, having a shower, washing food, doing the washing up, doing the laundry, and washing the car are just some of the many things we use water for every day. However, some people can’t do these things now because there isn’t any water where they live.
According to the 2018 United Nations World Water Development Report, more than 2 billion people in the world don’t have access to drinking water while more than 4 billion don’t have access to safe sanitation services.
Some Mexican initiatives, projects, solutions, and research centers have emerged to reduce these numbers. They’re fighting tooth and nail to defend the water we have left.
Nebia: the smart shower
As Director General of Sport City and Grupo Martí, Carlos Gómez Andonaegui seemed to have life figured out after five years at the head of these successful companies. However, this Tec graduate wanted to do something more: to revolutionize how people bathed.
After two years of working on a demo product in Silicon Valley, in partnership with specialized engineers and his father, he launched Nebia, a shower that reduces the amount of water used by up to 70% per session. In 2019, his company launched a new shower head in partnership with bathroom accessory manufacturer Moen. It was designed with technology that releases atomized water, sending out droplets over a surface area 10 times larger than that of of a normal shower. The objective: to save one billion gallons of water by 2021.
This product was backed by figures such as Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google. The shower collected more than 3.1 million dollars on Kickstarter and has been available since May of 2016.
Enrique Lomnitz and Isla Urbana
Enrique Lomnitz is the founder of the project Isla Urbana, which enables families with limited access to water to be self-sufficient while offering an alternative that reduces pressure on natural water supply in Mexico City, which is increasingly reduced.
The proposal is based on an easy-to-install technology called a Tlaloque, which is designed to adapt to the existing structure of Mexican homes and harvest rainwater, filtering out the first flush of water, which is the most contaminated.
Lomnitz says that water scarcity has become a more serious issue in Mexico City. “Last year, it was predicted to be the third city in the world most likely to run out of water. A lot more water falls here as rain than gets used in the city, but all of that water goes down the drain. It gets mixed with the sewage and flows away.”
The ideas behind Rotoplas
Ernesto Rodríguez used to be a research professor at Tecnológico de Monterrey, as well as the founder of WeaRobot, a startup focused on the design of modular suits that enabled people to recover their mobility. He’s currently the Director of Research, Development and Innovation at Grupo Rotoplas, at the forefront of the search for new solutions to conserve water.
Within the company, research into the water cycle is key to the development of innovative products and services. A graduate of the Tec’s Monterrey Campus, Rodríguez is in charge of the company’s innovation strategy. “We’re committed to sustainability. The company takes part in research projects, academic exchange programs, thesis supervision, research efforts in Mexico to license technologies and bring them to market.”
Bacteria to clean water
Last year, we reported on the work of E-coding, a group of students from the Monterrey campus of Tecnológico de Monterrey who want to clean polluted rivers and lakes through synthetic biology.
“We’re working to create a biological stimulus memory: pH, temperatures, pressures, compounds, molecules, there’s room for a lot of stimuli there,” explained Alan Ávila, a student of Nanotechnology Engineering.
They’ve genetically modified a bacterium to do this. “We’re going to use two main systems. One is CRISPR-Cas for gene editing and the other’s called SCRIBE. These two systems are going to help us insert DNA sequences into a bacterial genome,” he added.
“In the rivers and lakes of Chiapas, we’ve detected a very high concentration of heavy metals and compounds derived from nitrates and phosphates, which (according to research) could be related to one type of gastrointestinal cancer,” said Ávila. This an issue they want to tackle.
Encouraging water sustainability
The Water Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (Centro del Agua para América Latina y el Caribe, CDA) was created in November of 2008. This initiative was set up by Tecnológico de Monterrey, the FEMSA Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as a platform to address and provide solutions for the sustainable use of water through research, development, and capacity building.
“The Water Center came about due to the need that exists in the Latin America and Caribbean region to provide solutions, build capacities, and find common ground for discussing the sustainable use of water resources, as this region is experiencing a great deal of scarcity,” emphasized Dr. Alberto Mendoza Domínguez, CDA Director.
For the past 10 years, the Water Center has been located in the CEDES building of the Monterrey Campus of Tecnológico de Monterrey. One of the institution’s four research centers, it is staffed by a team of 52 specialists and researchers, eight of whom form part of the National Research System (Sistema Nacional de Investigadores, SNI).
“Since we launched the CDA, our goal has been to contribute to water security in the region, encouraging research, innovation, and capacity-building programs to strengthen the water profession,” said Mariano Montero, Director of the FEMSA Foundation.