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PART B. TECHNOLOGY PROFILES
1.3 Fog Harvesting
This innovative technology is based on the fact that water can be
collected from fogs under favorable climatic conditions. Fogs are defined
as a mass of water vapor condensed into small water droplets at, or just
above, the Earth's surface. The small water droplets present in the fog
precipitate when they come in contact with objects. The frequent fogs that
occur in the arid coastal areas of Peru and Chile are traditionally known
as camanchacas. These fogs have the potential to provide an alternative
source of freshwater in this otherwise dry region if harvested through the
use of simple and low-cost collection systems known as fog collectors.
Present research suggests that fog collectors work best in coastal areas
where the water can be harvested as the fog moves inland driven by the
wind. However, the technology could also potentially supply water for
multiple uses in mountainous areas should the water present in
stratocumulus clouds, at altitudes of approximately 400 m to 1 200 m, be
Full-scale fog collectors are simple, flat, rectangular nets of nylon
supported by a post at either end and arranged perpendicular to the
direction of the prevailing wind. The one used in a pilot-scale project in
the El Tofo region of Chile consisted of a single 2 m by 24 m panel with a
surface area of 48 m². Alternatively, the collectors may be more
complex structures, made up of a series of such collection panels joined
together. The number and size of the modules chosen will depend on local
topography and the quality of the materials used in the panels.
Multiple-unit systems have the advantage of a lower cost per unit of water
produced, and the number of panels in use can be changed as climatic
conditions and demand for water vary.
The surface of fog collectors is usually made of fine-mesh nylon or
polypropylene netting, e.g., "shade cloth," locally available in
Chile under the brand name Raschel. Raschel netting (made of flat, black
polypropylene filaments, 1.0 mm wide and 0.1 mm thick, in a triangular
weave) can be produced in varying mesh densities. After testing the
efficiency of various mesh densities, the fog collectors used at El Tofo
were equipped with Raschel netting providing 35% coverage, mounted in
double layers. This proportion of polypropylene-surface-to-opening
extracts about 30% of the water from the fog passing through the nets.
As water collects on the net, the droplets join to form larger drops
that fall under the influence of gravity into a trough or gutter at the
bottom of the panel, from which it is conveyed to a storage tank or
cistern. The collector itself is completely passive, and the water is
conveyed to the storage system by gravity. If site topography permits, the
stored water can also be conveyed by gravity to the point of use. The
storage and distribution system usually consists of a plastic channel or
PVC pipe approximately 110 mm in diameter which can be connected to a 20
mm to 25 mm diameter water hose for conveyance to the storage site/point
of use. Storage is usually in a closed concrete cistern. A 30 m3
underground cistern is used in the zone of Antofagasta in northern Chile.
The most common type of fog collector is shown in Figure 6.
Storage facilities should be provided for at least 50% of the expected
maximum daily volume of water consumed. However, because the fog
phenomenon is not perfectly regular from day to day, it may be necessary
to store additional water to meet demands on days when no fog water is
collected. Chlorination of storage tanks may be necessary if the water is
used for drinking or cooking purposes.
Extent of Use
Fog harvesting has been investigated for more than thirty years and has
been implemented successfully in the mountainous coastal areas of Chile
(see case study in Part C, Chapter 5), Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. Because
of a similar climate and mountainous conditions, this technology also can
be implemented in other regions as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 6: Section of a Typical Flat, Rectangular Nylon
Mesh Fog Collector. The water is collected in a 200 l drum.
G. Soto Alvarez, National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), Antofagasta,
In Chile, the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), the Catholic
University of the North, and the Catholic University of Chile are
implementing the technology in several regions, including El Toro, Los
Nidos, Cerro Moreno, Travesía, San Jorge, and Pan de Azúcar.
The results of the several experiments conducted in the northern coastal
mountain region indicate the feasibility and applicability of this
technology for supplying good-quality water for a variety of purposes,
including potable water and water for commercial, industrial,
agricultural, and environmental uses. These experiments were conducted
between 1967 and 1988 at altitudes ranging from 530 m to 948 m using
different types of fog water collectors. The different types of
neblinometers and fog collectors resulted in different water yields under
the same climatic conditions and geographic location. A neblinometer or
fog collector with a screen containing a double Raschel (30%) mesh was the
most successful and the one that is currently recommended.
In Peru, the National Meteorological and Hydrological Service (SENAMHI)
has been cooperating with the Estratus Company since the 1960s in
implementing the technology in the following areas: Lachay, Pasamayo,
Cerro Campana, Atiquipa, Cerro Orara (Ventinilla-Ancón), Cerro
Colorado (Villa María de Triunfo), and Cahuide Recreational Park
(Ate-Vitarte), and in southern Ecuador the Center for Alternative Social
Research (CISA) is beginning to work in the National Park of Machalilla on
Cerro La Gotera using the Chilean installations as models.
Operation and Maintenance
Operating this technology is very simple after once the fog collection
system and associated facilities are properly installed. Training of
personnel to operate the system might not be necessary if the users
participate in the development and installation of the required equipment.
A very important factor in the successful use of this technology is the
establishment of a routine quality control program. This program should
address both the fog collection system and the possible contamination of
the harvested water, and include the following tasks:
- Inspection of cable tensions. Loss of proper cable tension
can result in water loss by failing to capture the harvested water in
the receiving system. It can also cause structural damage to the
- Inspection of cable fasteners. Loose fasteners in the
collection structure can cause the system to collapse and/or be
- Inspection of horizontal mesh net tensions. Loose nets will
lead to a loss of harvesting efficiency and can also break easily.
Figure 7: Locations Where Fog Harvesting Has Been or Can
Source: W. Canto Vera, et al. 1993.
Fog Water Collection System. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada.
- Maintenance of mesh nets. After prolonged use, the nets may
tear. Tears should be repaired immediately to avoid having to replace
the entire panel. Algae can also grow on the surface of the
mesh net after one or two years of use, accumulating dust, which
will cloud the collected water and cause offensive taste and odor
problems. The mesh net should be cleaned with a soft plastic brush as
soon as algal growth is detected.
- Maintenance of collector drains. A screen should be installed
at the end of the receiving trough to trap undesirable materials
(insects, plants, and other debris) and prevent contamination of water
in the storage tank. This screen should be inspected and cleaned
- Maintenance of pipelines and pressure outlets. Pipelines
should be kept as clean as possible to prevent accumulation of sediments
and decomposition of organic matter. Openings along the pipes should be
built to facilitate flushing or partial cleaning of the system.
Likewise, pressure outlets should be inspected and cleaned frequently to
avoid accumulation of sediments. Openings in the system must be
protected against possible entry of insects and other contaminants.
- Maintenance of cisterns and storage tanks. Tanks must be
cleaned periodically with a solution of concentrated calcium chloride to
prevent the accumulation of fungi and bacteria on the walls.
- Monitoring of dissolved chlorine. A decrease in the
concentration of chlorine in potable water is a good indicator of
possible growth of microorganisms. Monitoring of the dissolved chlorine
will help to prevent the development of bacterial problems.
Level of Involvement
In applying this technology, it is strongly recommended that the end
users fully participate in the construction of the project. Community
participation will help to reduce the labor cost of building the fog
harvesting system, provide the community with operation and maintenance
experience, and develop a sense of community ownership and responsibility
for the success of the project. Government subsidies, particularly in the
initial stages, might be necessary to reduce the cost of constructing and
installing the facilities. A cost-sharing approach could be adopted so
that the end users will pay for the pipeline and operating costs, with the
government or an external agency assuming the cost of providing storage
and distribution to homes.
Actual costs of fog harvesting systems vary from location to location.
In a project in the region of Antofagasta, Chile, the installation cost of
a fog collector was estimated to be $90/m2 of mesh, while, in
another project in northern Chile, the cost of a 48 m2 fog
collector was approximately $378 ($225 in materials, $63 in labor, and $39
in incidentals). This latter system produced a yield of 3.0 l/m2
of mesh/day. The cost of a fog harvesting project constructed in the
village of Chungungo, Chile, is shown in Table 3. The most expensive item
in this system is the pipeline that carries the water from the fog
collection panel to the storage tank located in the village.
Maintenance and operating costs are relatively low compared to other
technologies. In the project in Antofagasta, the operation and maintenance
cost was estimated at $600/year. This cost is significantly less than that
of the Chungungo project: operating costs in that project were estimated
at $4 740, and maintenance costs at $7 590 (resulting in a total cost of
TABLE 3. Capital Investment Cost and Life Span of Fog Water
Collection System Components.
|| % of Total Cost
|| Life Span (Years)
|| 27 680
| Main pipeline
|| 43 787
|Storage (100 m3 tank)
|| 2 037
|| 32 806
Source: Soto Alvarez, G. National
Forestry Corporation, Antofagasta, Chile.
Both the capital costs and the operating and maintenance costs are
affected by the efficiency of the collection system, the length of the
pipeline that carries the water from the collection panels to the storage
areas, and the size of the storage tank. For example, the unit cost for a
system with an efficiency of 2.0 l/m2/day was estimated to be
$4.80/1 000 l. If the efficiency was improved to 5.0 l/m2/day,
then the unit cost would be reduced to $1.90/1 000 l. In the Antofagasta
project, the unit cost of production was estimated at $1.41/1 000 l with a
production of 2.5 l/m2/day.
Effectiveness of the Technology
Experimental projects conducted in Chile indicate that it is possible to
harvest between 5.3 l/m2/day and 13.4 l/m2/day
depending on the location, season, and type of collection system used. At
El Tofo, Chile, during the period between 1987 and 1990, an average fog
harvest of 3.0 l/m2/day was obtained using 50 fog collectors
made with Raschel mesh netting. Fog harvesting efficiencies were found to
be highest during the spring and summer months, and lowest during the
winter months. The average water collection rates during the fog seasons
in Chile and Peru were 3.0 and 9.0 l/m2/day, respectively; the
lengths of the fog seasons were 365 and 210 days, respectively. While this
seems to indicate that higher rates are obtained during shorter fog
seasons, the practical implications are that a shorter fog season will
require large storage facilities in order to ensure a supply of water
during non-fog periods. Thus, a minimum fog season duration of half a year
might serve as a guideline when considering the feasibility of using this
technology for water supply purposes; however, a detailed economic
analysis to determine the minimum duration of the fog season that would
make this technology cost-effective should be made. In general, fog
harvesting has been found more efficient and more cost-effective in arid
regions than other conventional systems.
In order to implement a fog harvesting program, the potential for
extracting water from fogs first must be investigated. The following
factors affect the volume of water that can be extracted from fogs and the
frequency with which the water can be harvested:
- Frequency of fog occurrence, which is a function of
atmospheric pressure and circulation, oceanic water temperature, and the
presence of thermal inversions.
- Fog water content, which is a function of altitude, seasons
and terrain features.
- Design of fog water collection system, which is a function of
wind velocity and direction, topographic conditions, and the materials
used in the construction of the fog collector.
The occurrence of fogs can be assessed from reports compiled by
government meteorological agencies. To be successful, this technology
should be located in regions where favorable climatic conditions exist.
Since fogs/clouds are carried to the harvesting site by the wind, the
interaction of the topography and the wind will be influential in
determining the success of the site chosen. The following factors should
be considered in selecting an appropriate site for fog harvesting:
Global Wind Patterns: Persistent winds from one
direction are ideal for fog collection. The high-pressure area in the
eastern part of the South Pacific Ocean produces onshore, southwest winds
in northern Chile for most of the year and southerly winds along the coast
Topography: It is necessary to have sufficient
topographic relief to intercept the fogs/clouds; examples, on a
continental scale, include the coastal mountains of Chile, Peru, and
Ecuador, and, on a local scale, isolated hills or coastal dunes.
Relief in the surrounding areas: It is important that
there be no major obstacle to the wind within a few kilometers upwind of
the site. In arid coastal regions, the presence of an inland depression or
basin that heats up during the day can be advantageous, as the localized
low pressure area thus created can enhance the sea breeze and increase the
wind speed at which marine cloud decks flow over the collection devices.
Altitude: The thickness of the stratocumulus clouds and
the height of their bases will vary with location. A desirable working
altitude is at two-thirds of the cloud thickness above the base. This
portion of the cloud will normally have the highest liquid water content.
In Chile and Peru, the working altitudes range from 400 m to 1 000 m above
Orientation of the topographic features: It is important
that the longitudinal axis of the mountain range, hills, or dune system be
approximately perpendicular to the direction of the wind bringing the
clouds from the ocean. The clouds will flow over the ridge lines and
through passes, with the fog often dissipating on the downwind side.
Distance from the coastline: There are many
high-elevation continental locations with frequent fog cover resulting
from either the transport of upwind clouds or the formation of orographic
clouds. In these cases, the distance to the coastline is irrelevant.
However, areas of high relief near the coastline are generally preferred
sites for fog harvesting.
Space for collectors: Ridge lines and the upwind edges
of flat-topped mountains are good fog harvesting sites. When long fog
water collectors are used, they should be placed at intervals of about 4.0
m to allow the wind to blow around the collectors.
Crestline and upwind locations: Slightly lower-altitude
upwind locations are acceptable, as are constant-altitude locations on a
flat terrain. But locations behind a ridge or hill, especially where the
wind is flowing downslope, should be avoided.
Prior to implementing a fog water harvesting program, a pilot-scale
assessment of the collection system proposed for use and the water content
of the fog at the proposed harvesting site should be undertaken. Low cost
and low maintenance measurement devices to measure the liquid water
content of fog, called neblinometers, have been developed at the Catholic
University of Chile (Carvajal,1982). Figure 8 illustrates four different
types of neblinometers: (a) a pluviograph with a perforated cylinder; (b)
a cylinder with a nylon mesh screen; (c) multiple mesh screens made of
nylon or polypropylene mesh; and (d) a single mesh screen made of nylon or
polypropylene mesh. The devices capture water droplets present in the fog
on nylon filaments that are mounted in an iron frame. The original
neblinometer had an area of 0.25 m2 made up of a panel with a
length and width of 0.5 m, and fitted with a screen having a warp of 180
nylon threads 0.4 mm in diameter. The iron frame was 1.0 cm in diameter
and was supported on a 2.0 m iron pole. These simple devices can be left
in the field for more than a year without maintenance and can be easily
modified to collect fog water samples for chemical analysis.
In pilot projects, use of a neblinometer with single or multiple panels
having a width and length of one meter, fitted with fine-mesh nylon or
polypropylene netting is recommended. It should be equipped with an
anemometer to measure wind velocity and a vane to measure wind direction.
The neblinometer can be connected to a data logger so that data can be
made available in computer-compatible formats.
- A fog collection system can be easily built or assembled on site.
Installation and connection of the collection panels is quick and
simple. Assembly is not labor intensive and requires little skill.
- No energy is needed to operate the system or transport the water.
- Maintenance and repair requirements are generally minimal.
- Capital investment and other costs are low in comparison with those
of conventional sources of potable water supply used, especially in
- The technology can provide environmental benefits when used in
national parks in mountainous areas, or as an inexpensive source of
water supply for reforestation projects.
- It has the potential to create viable communities in inhospitable
environments and to improve the quality of life for people in
mountainous rural communities.
Figure 8: Types of Neblinometers.
: G. Soto Alvarez, National Forestry Corporation, Antofagasta, Chile.
- The water quality is better than from existing water sources used for
agriculture and domestic purposes.
- This technology might represent a significant investment risk unless
a pilot project is first carried out to quantify the potential rate and
yield that can be anticipated from the fog harvesting rate and the
seasonality of the fog of the area under consideration.
- Community participation in the process of developing and operating
the technology in order to reduce installation and operating and
maintenance costs is necessary.
- If the harvesting area is not close to the point of use, the
installation of the pipeline needed to deliver the water can be very
costly in areas of high topographic relief.
- The technology is very sensitive to changes in climatic conditions
which could affect the water content and frequency of occurrence of
fogs; a backup water supply to be used during periods of unfavorable
climatic conditions is recommended.
- In some coastal regions (e.g., in Paposo, Chile), fog water has
failed to meet drinking water quality standards because of
concentrations of chlorine, nitrate, and some minerals.
- Caution is required to minimize impacts on the landscape and the
flora and fauna of the region during the construction of the fog
harvesting equipment and the storage and distribution facilities.
This technology has been accepted by communities in the mountainous
areas of Chile and Peru. However, some skepticism has been expressed
regarding its applicability to other regions. It remains a localized water
supply option, dependent on local climatic conditions.
Future Development of the Technology
To improve fog harvesting technology, design improvements are necessary
to increase the efficiency of the fog collectors. New, more durable
materials should be developed. The storage and distribution systems needs
to be made more cost-effective. An information and community education
program should be established prior to the implementation of this
Guido Soto A., Waldo Canto V., and Alejandro
Cruzet, Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF), IV Región,
Cordovez 281, La Serena, Chile. Tel. (56-51)22-6090 / 22-4306 / 21-3565.
Hector Correa C., Corporación Nacional Forestal
(CONAF), III Región, Avda. Atacama 898, Copiapo, Chile. Tel.
(56-52)21-2571. Fax (56-52)21-2571.
Roberto Espejo Guasp, Profesor, Departamento de Física,
Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Católica del Norte, Av. Angamos
0610, Casilla de Correo 1280, Antofagasta, Chile. Tel. (56-55)24-1148,
anexos 211/287. Fax (56-55)24-1724/24-1756, E-mail:
Pilar Cereceda T., Instituto de Geografía,
Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 306, Correo 22, Santiago,
Chile. Tel./Fax (56-2)552-6028.
Derek Webb, Coordinador del Proyecto CIID / IDRC,
Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 106, Correo 22, Santiago,
Chile. Tel./Fax (56-2)233-7414.
Christian Gischler, Consultant, Alvaro Casanova 294-B2A,
La Reina, Casilla 206, Correo 12, Santiago, Chile. Tel. (56-2)273-1433.
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