A South African media expert termed "rainmaker" is making waves across the country supplying solutions to the water crisis using atmospheric water generators to drought-stricken areas, in particular the Eastern Cape.
His innovations are making a significant social and environment impact.
Ray de Vries, well known in media and sport circles for building the Dusi Canoe Marathon's media, marketing and sponsorship brand for almost 20 years and for working on media for the Durban Airshow, the Comrades Marathon and many other top events "discovered" an opportunity in the water making market just before the finish of one of the Dusi marathons.
An idea whose time has come…
"I built the Dusi brand for 19 years and when writing all of the media releases and putting it all together the first question was always, "what is the water like? What dirty stuff is in it and is it going to be okay?" I learnt a lot about water," de Vries said.
Then, on one hot summer's day deep in the bush during the Dusi, de Vries was drinking an ice-cold drink at a local shebeen when he had an epiphany, prompted by a question posed by a curious young boy. The helicopter was looking for me to take me to the finish and the water on the outside of the bottle that I was drinking from fell all over my shirt which was supposed to be clean for the photo shoot. The boy came to me and asked "why is there water on the outside of the bottle, is the bottle leaking?" I explained to him why there was water on the outside and it stuck in my mind and I thought: "this is the answer to man's biggest problem", de Vries said.
He researched atmospheric water technology and bought his first small Chinese made machine for personal use in his office. He realised that it signified a big step in changing the source of water – from dams and the municipality or a hired watercooler to obtaining it straight from the air. But the wonder was short lived when the machine broke down eight months later and de Vries discovered there was no backup service.
"People were just selling appliances and I thought that is what is wrong, it has to be an alternative source of water and it can't be for just nine months."
That's what prompted de Vries to get into the industry and he set up his first business in 2006 importing atmospheric water generating machines from China. After several years, de Vries broke away to form the company, Air Water™ South Africa.
Today he sources his Air Water™ making machines from China, India, the United States and South Africa and has an expert travelling to the factories abroad to ensure they are made to his exact specifications and quality requirements for the local market.
The machine cools down air down to dew point, causing condensation which drops into an ultraviolent storage unit and is then passed through a nine-point filtration process as well as in-line ultraviolet sterilisers, to produce soft, alkaline water. de Vries, who describes himself as an "innovator and not an inventor", recently started having larger machines manufactured and is at present rolling out a number of franchised water bottling plants called the African rainmaker, across South Africa.
The plants can be built to run in a container or in smaller fixed premises. The company has built 5 humidity harvesting bottling plants in Cape Town including a company owned one a year ago just 900m off the beach in Muizenberg, Cape Town,
"We were growing by an average of 37% per month before COVID dealt us a near fatal blow.
“We had already created 5 jobs in just 6 months and would have had over 30 new jobs created by year end 2020. Sadly, we had to retrench 4 of the staff including myself, to save the company.
We are on our way back and growing again and, I have no doubt, we will be back up where we belong in 2021.
Humidity Harvesting Bottling Plants
His bottling plants can generate enough water from the air to full up to 10,000 x 500ml bottles per day.
"To put this into perspective, that is enough bottled water for the needs of 100 to 200 restaurants. The company also supplies smaller machines that make enough water from the air to meet the tea, coffee, soda stream and other water needs of the restaurant" de Vries said.
The plant are scalable upwards and additional machines can be added as demand grows
"This humidity harvester is the answer to the massive water crisis facing schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and other commercial operations that face closing down in a time of drought," he said. And it’s not just in times of drought – people are blown away by our 100%sustainable water bottled in upmarket glass bottles making them sought after by the trade.
“We have many entrepreneurs who see the enormous business opportunities that the Air Water™ maker brings and are getting involved on the ground floor of a massive new industry. The more entrepreneurs that come forward, the more jobs are created and the more people have water to drink" he said.
De Vries also exports and supplies water making machines to hotels in Majorca, the Bahamas, Seychelles and soon in Mauritius. He is in talks with a hotel chain in Texas.
Locally, he said the Eastern Cape was "going crazy" for the smaller water machines as well as the business opportunity that the bottling franchise offers.
"This is the fourth drought my team and I have had the pleasure of providing solutions for, although, the Cape Town situation was by far the worst and found itself fast sliding from a crisis into a catastrophe.
He has big plans for the future of the business.
One of the most satisfying aspect of his business, de Vries said was the fact that for every litre of water consumed from the air it means that a litre has remained in the dams for the use of other South Africans.