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Grant Vanderwagen

Former ‘beach bum’ aims to turn fog into water to address Cape crisis

From the outset it sounds like a crazy idea. To turn fog into water. But this is exactly what high-school dropout Grant Vanderwagen from Cape Town plans to do.

The 25-year-old business consultant’s idea to develop fog farms to help the city to battle its water crisis has already been featured on a number of online publications (such as 9lives.co.za, htxt and even on a site for a water network based in Germany).

His H20 Catchers solution consists of metal frames covered with fine netting to gather condensation. He claims each fog farm can produce up to 10 000 litres at a time. Yet he can’t say as yet how much it will all cost to manufacture, install and maintain.

“I’m trying to get as much awareness about this project to get those that are interested to contact me,” he told Ventureburn yesterday.

Since his idea has been featured on various news sites he says he has been getting emails “from every direction”.

Says a document he sent to Ventureburn detailing his H20 Catchers idea: “We are looking for businesses that can add value to our efforts in terms of plumbing supply’s (sic), building materials, recycling production, 3D printing and knowledge into weather patterns and fog patterns.”

Vanderwagen — also the managing director of Vanderwagen House, a one-person business consultancy — says he’s looking at sourcing recycled materials with which to build the units and is also looking at a meshing that is made up of 60% bamboo.

‘I’m trying to get as much awareness about this project to get those that are interested to contact me’

Initially he was considering getting these produced by 3D printers, but discovered that the cost is quite prohibitive to do so.

h20-catchersEarlier this month he contacted the City of Cape Town, who advised him to complete an online form to detail the concept better. He said he was told that if his solution conformed to certain minimum standards, the city would consider piloting it.

“I don’t have the funds to do the project and the only one I know who will (back it) is the government,” he says.

He says the idea came to him a few years ago while watching a CNN documentary that highlighted fog farms in Peru.

Without getting into specifics, he says the use of a unit with meshing to capture condensation has been tested in South Africa by a university, but adds that that idea focused more on capturing water than fog.

His units, he believes, would be ideal if installed in the nearby valleys of Brede Valley, Ceres Valley and Franschhoek, to gather mist that regularly forms there in winter.

“If we get these things up now, in a couple of years time we will be smiling,” he says.

Vanderwagen says he was born on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast. He says he dropped out of school after completing Grade 9 before he “became a beach bum”.

He later moved to the Cape and did a two-year engineering course at Boland College in Stellenbosch after doing a catch-up course to get entry into the college. Most recently, he says, he was mentored by an entrepreneur.

‘If we get these things up now, in a couple of years time we will be smiling’

He says he’s done research into the kinds of investors available, but doesn’t think they would be interested because there would likely be no real returns for them from the solution.

But the government, he believes could come on board. He could also get big corporates on board, he figures — even though he adds corporates might take a long time to tie up any deal, time he reckons he doesn’t have. “We’re trying to get it up like yesterday,” he says.

His focus he says is on setting up the first fog farm as soon as possible to begin supplying water to small rural communities — even though much of the crisis is in the city itself.

After the first farms are up, he reckons these could serve as a pilot to determine exactly how much water such farms can generate and whether this would be suitable to supply only small homes, suburbs or towns or even a whole city.

Says Vanderwagen: “If you can set up 100 of these… I say, let’s do it.”

The question now is — will investors and the government say yes to Vanderwagen’s “let’s do it”?