03/07/2018 - 09:30

Wilco partners on US hydro technology

03/07/2018 - 09:30

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Majority Aboriginal-owned business Wilco Electrical recently secured distributorship across the state for cutting-edge US technology that draws water from air.

Frank Mitchell (left) and Zero Mass Water chief executive Cody Friesen are working towards rolling out Source hydropanels in regional and metropolitan WA. Photo: Ryan Ammon

Western Australian business Wilco Electrical has won an partnership with a US-based company that is developing technology to produce clean water in dry and remote locations.

The technology by Zero Mass Water, called SOURCE hydropanels, extracts drinking water from the air and was trialled in Australia earlier this year, backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Each Source unit produces around five litres of water a day and, in addition to alleviating water stress, is intended to reduce the number of plastic bottles transported to regional communities.

Co-owned by Noongar man and 2018 40under40 winner Frank Mitchell, Wilco Electrical has gained distribution rights to install the Source units across WA and the Northern Territory, while other distributors have been signed on for the east coast deployment.

As a majority Aboriginal-owned business, in November 2016 Wilco Electrical set itself the target of creating 20 electrical apprenticeships for indigenous Australians in the four years to 2020.

Currently, Wilco has 30 staff in total, with three of its six apprentices Aboriginals.

It has partnered with the Aboriginal training and employment group Wirrpanda Foundation to help it achieve its goal.

Mr Mitchell said working with Zero Mass Water created an exciting opportunity for Aboriginal people to engage with and become upskilled around cutting-edge technology.

“For them (Zero Mass), they really needed certainty; they needed a partner that was going to back them and had large warehouses,” Mr Mitchell told Business News.

“Now, Wilco is quite a small company, so what really sold it for them was this whole 20 by 20 push, the upskilling of Aboriginal boys and girls, men and women, and then we sent them a video of what we’re doing and it really resonated with them.

“They thought, ‘wow, Wilco might not have the backing that we desire, but what a story’, so that’s when the magic really followed.”

Mr Mitchell said Wilco was currently engaged in the investment period, aiming to outsource and expand its warehousing capacity.

“Where Source is most practical is remote locations like the Abrolhos Islands, the Pilbara region, where we’re getting many reports about poor water quality, even within the town of Port Hedland and Karratha,” he said.

“A lot of people are relying on bottled water, and to truck up there, when you look at the nation, it’s probably one of the most remote locations to truck water to.

“Research has found that in some areas in Western Australia, families are paying $2 or above for a litre for drinking water. That is very high rates for water.”

Mr Mitchell said Wilco Electrical would be seeking support from the Department of Housing and Department of Communities to fund remote installations.

“They are sending bottled water to these places anyway, so we would be offering them a more cost-effective solution,” he said.

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