Rain in the desert: the artist Ap Verh’s water machine …

Sittard –

The visual artist Ap Verheggen from Nieuwstadt receives the Over Hoop award for his SunGlacier, a water machine with world potential. “There really is so much that can be done with technology.”

A bright autumn day in Dubai: a clear sky and 33 degrees. Still, Willem-Alexander and Máxima needed an umbrella at the opening of the Dutch Pavilion at the World’s Fair on November 3, 2021, in order not to get wet. The royal couple looked at the eye-catcher from the Dutch entry into the emirate: SunGlacier by the visual artist Ap Verheggen. His water-making machine ran like clockwork: From the roof of the pavilion, it rained icy rays. Last week, it was announced that Verheggen is receiving the Over Hoop Award 2021 for his SunGlacier, an annual award for groundbreaking initiatives at the interface between culture and society. The jury, with former entrepreneur and former museum director Christiaan Braun as chairman, selected Verheggen from among 127 nominations. She praises his visionary gaze, his perseverance and commitment.

A large sea container for the SunGlacier project on the roof of the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai.

Photo: Hessel Waalewijn

The impact of Verheggen’s water machine is potentially enormous. If his now patented invention can be applied worldwide, millions of people in arid areas could access drinking water. It would also make agriculture possible in places where this is currently unthinkable. A world of possibilities opens up with his SunGlacier, says Verheggen confidently. “Sun, gravity and air are plentiful and freely available everywhere. They do the work.”

Rain in the desert: the water machine by the artist Ap Verheggen

SunGlacier (dome rain showers) at Expo 2020 in Dubai.

Photo: Hessel Waalewijn

To explain his invention, Verheggen makes a comparison. “What happens if you put an ice-cold can of cola in the sun? It starts to sweat. The water vapor in the air blowing against the can condenses. Soon, water droplets will roll down.”

Condensing machines are built according to this principle: water vapor condenses on flat cooled metal plates. Unfortunately, in areas with high temperatures, the generated water droplets evaporate almost instantly.

Verheggen’s SunGlacier works differently. On the roof of the Dutch pavilion in Dubai, he placed a six-meter-long sea container with the largest SunGlacier that he and his companion Peter van Geloven have ever built. Solar panels supplied the energy, intended for a battery, water pump, cooler and barrel.

Read also: Prestigious award for ‘watermaker’ Ap Verheggen from Nieuwstadt

After all, SunGlacier is a water multiplier. He blows outdoor air through a cold rainstorm. The water vapor in the outdoor air condenses against the cold falling water droplets, which thus increases in volume. The result: a growing waterfall. The cooler and water pump ensure that the water is pumped up again and again cooled to rain showers.

The extracted water can be stored in a reservoir or used directly. SunGlacier in the Dutch pavilion at the World’s Fair produced 1,200 liters of water daily.

With the support of the Ministry of Defense, Verheggen also built the Droppler 20, a smaller SunGlacier for hot and dry areas like Mali. This machine, which fits in a flight case, produces up to 30 liters of water a day. Suitable for consumption. The artist himself drinks coffee made daily from water from a Droppler set up in the port of Rotterdam. Now another backpack model for the desert. He is working on that, says 58-year-old Verheggen in a conversation where he talks about his motives and cooperation with multinational companies.

How did you come up with the idea for SunGlacier?

Ap Verheggen: “From the 1990s onwards, I visited the Arctic regularly. I was very interested in the Inuit, their ability to make something out of nothing. I even made videos and large sculptures there. Over the years, I noticed how quickly the climate in the Arctic was changing. But if one used the words global warming back then, many still called it a hoax. In 2009 I wanted to draw attention to the climate problem with my artwork cool (E) exercise. I placed two of my sculptures on a floating iceberg in northwest Greenland. Because they were equipped with GPS trackers, it was possible to follow live from a distance how dynamically the iceberg moved through the melting process. It was predicted that the process would take four to six years. But because in May it was suddenly +20 degrees Celsius in Greenland instead of the usual -20, the iceberg melted in two months.

“We would be in trouble if climate change happened at the same rate in lower areas, I realized. I was hoping to raise awareness about this with yet another work of art. My plan was to use solar energy to create a glacier in the desert. Hence the name SunGlacier. The plan was a sculpture 50 times 10 and 3 to 4 meters high. Think big, That’s how I am. It all started with that plan. ”

Rain in the desert: the water machine by the artist Ap Verheggen

A rainstorm in the desert.

Photo: Hessel Waalewijn

A glacier in the desert, it sounds utopian.

‘Yes, I was regularly laughed at. But I also met people who became fascinated. Employees of the refrigeration company Engi Refrigerating in Zoetermeer (now: Equans, ed.) Found my idea so interesting that they transformed part of their factory into a climate laboratory. Since 2011, the first difficult steps have been taken for SunGlacier. At that time, the connection with solar energy was still not successful. “

What was the first working model?

“A fountain inaugurated in 2016 at the Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague. I got the necessary water from the air with solar energy. Also thanks to Peter van Geloven, who had become my technical sparring partner in the field of solar energy.

“During that period, I participated in a conference on climate change organized by the Ministry of Defense. There I came in contact with Tom Middendorp, then commander of the Dutch armed forces. “In general, we’re talking about the impact of droughts and actions against climate change,” I said to him, “but when are we really going to do anything?” Middendorp then invited us to fly to Mali. We were allowed to try out SunGlacier test installations in a Dutch army camp. In particular, we learned that the existing condensing technology with cold metal surfaces did not work in the malic heat. The few drops of water we made evaporated instantly. Then Peter and I concluded that if we wanted to achieve something in that kind of field, then we really had to work with other technology. This led to our idea of ​​catching condensation droplets with a waterfall of ice-cold water. “

Rain in the desert: the water machine by the artist Ap Verheggen

SunGlazier in a desert in Mali.

Photo: Hessel Waalewijn

An artist becomes an inventor?

“Yes. We did it right. And with the help of a new partner, Hugo de Vries, we even managed to patent our invention, a complicated process.

“It may sound like a success story, but we really experimented endlessly. We have now completed perhaps around eighty test setups, always with small improvements. Several times we knocked on the door of TU Delft to get help to no avail. We were always laughed at and sent off. We also had that problem with grant applications. Cultural institutions thought we were too scientific. And in the world of science, I’m a loose cannon. Why those boxes, I do not understand? “When the request came to build a large SunGlacier in Dubai and we made that machine work, I cried like a child. There really is so much that can be done with technology. One just has to dare to walk along undefeated paths. Therefore, I primarily seek collaboration with students. Young people are more creative. After lectures at many universities, I started talking about the cities of the future. I recently recorded the clip for ‘Hero’, a song about the climate problem with the singer Janieck. “

What now?

“We are going to build an industrial prototype with a Dutch multinational, a machine builder. In addition, we had a fruitful conversation with a company that supplies installations for greenhouse horticulture and wants to use our technology to create greenhouses with closed ecosystems. No, I can not mention names.But they are companies with knowledge and determination.

“Do I want to dream high? Hopefully, tens of thousands of SunGlaciers will have been sold in five years. We do not have to immediately solve world problems with this, but in the long run this invention can help ease the pressure on drinking water and food supply problems.

“It is not so interesting what those machines will cost. The crucial thing is that development starts quickly. Elon Musk’s first Teslas were very expensive. Now the electric car is the new standard. My technology must be available to anyone who needs it. This week I received a message from a journalist from the Seville area. She was cut off from drinking water and given only gray water. She wrote: ‘I need such a device from you.’ And we’re talking about Spain! Due to climate change and population growth, we have water problems in more and more places. ”

Are you an entrepreneur now?

“No, I’m still an artist. I also make other sculptures. They also have a connection with nature. I also consider these water machines to be works of art: they manipulate natural processes.”

Do you want to get rich from the included licenses?

Laughs: “I was on the radio recently. The presenter asked, ‘So are you definitely in now?’ Then I replied, “Yes, that’s right. And in a moment I’m going outside again.” The prospect of getting rich has zero value for me. I see this as a wonderful adventure. what could be better than that? ”

See also: sunglacier.nl, apverheggen.nl and overhoop.org

Over the Hope Award

The Over Hoop Award is an annual award from the Over Holland Foundation, intended for a person or organization that in the previous year has positively disrupted something significant in the interface between culture and society. The prize was awarded for the first time in 2018, then to the Sociëteit Sexyland in Amsterdam. Subsequent winners were Bedside Singers Amsterdam, a choir that sings for people in the last stages of life, and Zetje in, a student platform that worked to give the subject of discrimination a permanent place in education.

The prize consists of a trophy and a cash prize of 25,000 euros.

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