Water From Air: How Genesis Systems Plans to Solve Global Water Scarcity
Global water scarcity threatens millions, but one startup hopes to change that by extracting high volumes of water directly from air. We’re joined by Shannon Stuckenberg, the CEO & Co-founder of Genesis Systems, and we’re discussing her organization’s crusade against global water scarcity and how a new mindset towards water is driving innovative new solutions.
Shannon, welcome! Let me start by asking if you can give me a brief overview of Genesis Systems, and I’d love to hear about your background and how you came to be the Co-founder & CEO.
Great, Tim, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Genesis is a company borne of an understanding of the realities of water scarcity and the growing need for clean drinking water around the globe. With that understanding came our company mission, which is to solve global water scarcity, an achievable goal that we work toward every day.
We’ve been very fortunate to build a great team with dedicated, motivated innovators to help realize our vision, beginning with David Stuckenberg, our inventor and co-founder, who was deployed overseas and witnessed firsthand the tremendous impact that water scarcity has in many nations.
During his deployment, David regularly saw massive convoys of trucks moving water to cities and towns across the desert and came to realize that in many locations the people are only a day or two away from running out of water. Some locations lacked any water at all, while others had dirty, polluted water unfit for consumption. This inspired David to take action, and it led to the creation of Genesis Systems.
Since founding, we’ve built a remarkable team of leaders and innovators who came to understand the reality of water scarcity just like we did and wanted to contribute. Erick Went, our CTO, has been looking at water scarcity for years and is focused on the technical challenges required to solve it. Our president, Steve Kwast, grew up as a child in African villages where water scarcity was on his doorstep every single day. There are many other examples.
Everyone on our team has a passion for solving global water scarcity, and time is of the essence to find a solution. Not too long ago, we got a call from Uganda and asking for over a dozen of our water-generation systems because they were in a drought and had thousands of people without water.
I remember being on that phone call and having to tell them we don’t have a commercial solution yet. It was painful to tell them we didn’t have an answer — but after a lot of hard work, it’s a different story now. We’re nearly ready to launch our first production systems. We attribute all of this success to our driving purpose — to solve global water scarcity.
Let’s talk about water scarcity. This has been a global issue affecting over 40% of people on Earth, and it’s a problem that’s getting worse, right?
The issue of water scarcity, beyond being one of the most understated global security issues, is one of the greatest impending economic and human impact stories of our age. As we survey the availability of water and the demand, we see entire nations in jeopardy and at risk of destabilization — simply because of water. This is what we’re trying to stop, and we believe we have a solution.
As climate change continues, the wet parts of the world are getting wetter and the dry places are getting drier, and water scarcity is getting worse in all of them. Flooding is an example of a situation where water itself is making the problem worse. Just recently a member of our team visited Bangladesh and while there’s an abundance of water, it’s not clean enough to drink.
As I understand things, Genesis Systems is focused on tackling water scarcity head-on with a new technology that literally creates water out of thin air. How does that work?
Water scarcity is an enormous issue, and our perspective is technological solutions need to solve the issue without creating new ones in the process. With an issue of this magnitude, a poor solution would be irresponsible, so our approach began with a focus on sustainability and ecology.
Our technology works by mimicking nature, using a patented process to pull water out of the air, and essentially inducing rain showers. Our process for doing this is so efficient that we can provide enough water for an entire village or town from a device the size of a cargo container.
This is something that we’ll be talking about in greater detail in the future, but we’re still very protective of our intellectual property so I don’t want to reveal too much right now. We’re also very careful about the statements we make about our technology and its capabilities, so everything that we share in public is backed up by rigorous science & engineering.
Why pull water out of the air rather than simply refine something like the reverse-osmosis technology that’s used to purify dirty water?
There will always be demand for reverse-osmosis water filtration systems. However, there are also literally hundreds of cities that simply lack enough water to filter, which means they need a different solution. That’s the space that we’re primarily focused on — providing a new source of water. In some places, we’ll augment water supplies, while in others we’ll be the only source.
Now in the example of the reverse-osmosis systems above, one of the issues has been the need to replace filters because of fouling over time. Does your system have any components that need regular replacement, or is it relatively low maintenance?
Our system is designed for ease-of-use and low maintenance. When you’re talking about consumables like filters, you have to remember that these items aren’t easy to get in the interior of a country like India. Rather than designing in future obstacles, we’re working on elegant solutions with a focus on simplicity and durability. These are life support systems, we always try to keep that in mind.
As I understand things, you’re currently engaged in building a couple of test water generation systems. Can you tell me about where these projects are, and what the goals are for them?
Yes, we have been building and testing systems for about two years. We’re anticipating presenting our first products coming to market in 2021–2022. The urgency is real. We do not see another company in the world that can produce products that operate at the efficiencies and water output of a Genesis System.
Water is a critical part of every supply chain, so we see Genesis as a part of every future supply chain. Water is also life, which is why we have a global mission to provide water where municipalities and communities are struggling. This isn’t an issue that affects only hundreds or thousands of people — water scarcity affects millions of people every single day, so we have to think big.
What is the cost to build a commercial-scale plant, and what kind of output could that generate?
The cost of water will likely be at or below municipal water or desalination. That’s not where we are today, but it’s where we’re going. Our capital cost will be many orders of magnitude less than a typical desalination plant, and thankfully, there will be no brine, byproducts, or ecological impacts from our water plants.
Is it possible to scale this technology down to something that could be used for only a few people, perhaps in rural villages?
Genesis Systems water becomes more affordable when we scale up our production output, so producing more water actually costs less. However, there are needs on both ends — what we call “big water” and “small water” — so our plan is to be very engaged in both spaces.
From the standpoint of corporate responsibility, we’d like to use a portion of our revenues and profits to make smaller systems available at cost for NGOs and communities. That is an ambition of ours, and we’ve already identified the staff to lead this effort. Lives depend on this technology, so we need to move fast.
Now in addition to consumer water scarcity, this is an issue that also affects businesses. Can you tell me a bit about the concerns in this area, and how they may differ from water scarcity in the general population of affected regions?
The depth of the commercial instability due to water scarcity is only now starting to gain attention. For example, Blackrock recently published an analysis noting an estimated 60 percent of US real estate investments are at risk due to water scarcity.
One example of the commercial impact of water scarcity has already made headlines in Texas, where a large real estate development is literally running out of water. On a global scale, there are places where water scarcity impacts farmers to the point where they’re giving up on their land; bottling companies are struggling to source water for production, and costs are rising all over.
So, we envision a future where like micro-electric grids, our systems can add resilience and affordability by supplying decentralized water to companies and consumers alike, which helps alleviate dependence on failing central water systems. We call this water generation at the edge. It’s more resilient, cost-effective, and manageable than centralized distribution systems.
I’ve heard that the gradual decay of our water infrastructure may create risks for water scarcity right here in the US. Is this an issue that you’ve looked at, and is there a reason to be concerned about it?
You know, based on some of the site surveys that we’ve done, the bottom line is that our society hasn’t put the money it needs to into our water infrastructure. Now, after years of neglect, our infrastructure is failing and we’re suddenly discussing all sorts of Band-Aid solutions.
One of the big conversations right now is about the need to keep high mineral content of water flowing through our pipes, because many of our water pipes are so decayed that they’re basically held together by heavy mineral content.
Infrastructure issues are something that we have to keep in mind to be able to integrate our technology into our existing infrastructure, but our goal isn’t to fix the legacy water infrastructure, simply to provide a technological solution to provide potable water. We have to stay focused on this.
Earlier you mentioned “decentralized water”, which is an intriguing concept because it parallels recent innovations in decentralized electricity. However, unlike the vulnerabilities in our electrical grid, it seems like water is something that’s easily overlooked. Why is that?
If you can turn that tap on and water comes out, then most people won’t give much thought to where the water comes from. Do you know, and is your water really safe? One of our missions is to help raise awareness about water scarcity, along with providing safe, clean, portable water.
Just last week, there was an article about a young boy in Texas who ended up in the hospital from contaminants in drinking water. Now, we should be able to just turn the faucet on and not have to worry about it, but the reality is that we do need to be educated about our water, and we need to ensure it’s safe.
Let’s switch gears a bit & talk about the company itself. Your board of directors is a true powerhouse, with incredible names like Lt. Gen. David Deptula (Ret.), Vice ADM Norbert Ryan (Ret.), and Ambassador R. James Woolsey. How were you able to recruit such remarkable and accomplished professionals?
We’re very humbled by the team of proven leaders that has formed around Genesis — and there are many more who are working in the background. All of them believe in our mission and technology, and they’re eager to get in front of decision-makers on behalf of Genesis, which is truly an honor.
I think it all boils down to when you have a vision that is so grand and achievable, you know, when; when life and everything around it is dependent upon water; when you have people with that like-minded drive, it’s easy to get those people to come on board and to capture that vision with you and to get it out there.
We have so many other amazing people that have partnered with us, either financially as partners, or simply as supporters to help us get our message out to the world. The names you’ve mentioned are just a few of the people that have helped us, and I’m very grateful for all of the help we’ve received.
What does having powerful people on your board do in terms of funding, negotiating deals, and other business activities? Have you found that it’s helped you get more recognition or be taken more seriously?
That’s a great question. It’s a double-edged sword, because the caliber of the technology and our leadership is so high that it means we have to be above reproach. Expectations are high, but the solutions for water scarcity require new thinking, and like any innovation, there’s some uncertainty involved.
We’re delivering new formulas, informed thinking, and audacious goals — but we’re also firmly rooted in keeping our team accountable to our ultimate goals. This is a “no-fail mission”, and we need experience and wisdom on our team to guide our journey.
So, in terms of having powerful board members, it’s not about celebrity — it’s about performance. Even as a start-up, we try to operate at the performance level of a Fortune 100 company. Millions of lives depend on it.
Where would you say the company is right now in terms of growth & lifecycle? Would it be fair to describe it as a startup still, or have you grown beyond that?
We are very much a start-up, but we don’t think like a start-up. In other words, our legs are not wobbly. We have a mature team, but we remain agile and versatile in order to perform well and scale fast.
This is about rapidly accelerating a novel tech and then building it into a credible and reliable global brand quickly. Lives depend on us. Genesis Systems may one day be very large, but that will grow out of our desire to serve humanity first, not profit motives.
Genesis has always had the vision of being a global company, and we’ve ingrained that goal and mentality into our business, even in startup mode. We view ourselves that way because we have a global challenge ahead of us. Yes, we are definitely, still working on R&D, but from a business perspective, we strive to operate at a higher level than does your typical startup.
What kind of response are you getting from potential clients and others who are just learning about your technology and company goals? I’d love to know more about the kind of feedback you’re getting about this technology when you introduce it to people.
The interest has been through the roof. I know that sounds a bit cliche, but the interest in our technology has absolutely been phenomenal. One day, we’ll be speaking with the Australian Ministry of Defense about portable water systems for a base, and the next we’ll be talking with a foreign government trying to save a village.
We’re doing site surveys in the Midwest to see how we can provide water for these cities, tribes, and office parks, and we’re working on a government-spec design to satisfy government demands as well. So, the interest is very high, and right now we’re building a new unit that will help determine who the best fit is to be our first customer.
Let me close by asking what comes next for the company and yourself — where do you see things going for the company and this technology, and where can we expect to see you next in the news?
You can expect to see continued modest indicators that we’re preparing something quite incredible. Given the need to build trust with shareholders, customers, and the public, you have to realize that we’re going to hold a lot back, but what we do share will be genuine. Credibility is critical, and once we solve global water scarcity, who knows? Maybe we’ll pursue world hunger.
About Our Guest
Mrs. Shannon Stuckenberg is CEO and Co-Founder at Genesis Systems LLC. She studied design and teaching at the University of Southern Missouri and Crowder College where she graduated with highest honors. Shannon has distinguished herself as an accomplished leader, organizer, and manager with a 17 year track record leading government organizations and NGOs.
During her time with the U.S. Department of Interior, she received a top award from for creating benchmarked national conservation programs. Further, during her NGO work in some of the poorest nations on earth, Shannon developed and applied expertise on water and food sustainability and human sustainment requirements in the most challenging environments on the globe.
Shannon frequently advises the U.S. government agencies and global governments on water related infrastructure and business strategies. She is the first female CEO in the world to lead a technology company that creates mass water. Shannon and her husband have five children. Learn more online at: https://genesissystems.global/