One of Michal Bay’s fondest memories from his native Turkey is swimming in the Euphrates River.
He recalls the waters of the 1,740-mile river – a reservoir for millennia of history, culture and religion – teeming with fish.
“I went back a few years ago and was swimming with plastic,” said Bay, owner and operator of the historic Merino Mill complex in Mooresville.
The experience of discovering that an idyllic setting from your past now truly exists only in your mind can be heartbreaking.
It was for Bay.
But the always-ambitious entrepreneur – and unabashed optimist – is not one to turn anguish into an obstacle. Instead, Bay used the experience as inspiration to learn more about how humankind’s reliance on plastic and other single-use materials was turning the world’s waterways and oceans into endless garbage dumps.
His discovery also is at the heart of a multifaceted plan to use the mill’s solar panels – the largest rooftop array in North Carolina – to power machines that collectively will pull tens of thousands of gallons of water literally out of the air on a daily basis.
The Skywater technology is a product of Davidson-based Boomerang Water, which specializes in on-site, small-batch bottling systems that clean, fill and cap reusable glass and aluminum bottles with purified drinking water.
Merino Mill is one of the early users of the Boomerang system. Bottled water served at the mill’s two restaurants – Aliño Pizzeria and Barcelona Burger and Beer Garden – and supplied to the mill’s dozens of commercial tenants is continuously bottled and rebottled on site.
But Skywater, according to Boomerang CEO Jason Dibble, has the potential to take the mill’s sustainability efforts to unprecedented heights.
“We’re going to get the water out of the air, bottle it and get the bottle back when you’re done with it,” he explained in a recent interview while standing on a former loading dock near the middle of the mill complex. “Game-changer. Show the world what you can do.”
And, he added, “We’re just brave enough to take it on.”
But the vision doesn’t end with a closed-loop system for collecting, bottling and rebottling drinking water at Merino Mill.
Dibble said the plan is to eventually use nutrient-enriched collected water to grow vegetables onsite that then go directly to the kitchens of the mill’s restaurants.