Dehumidifiers have been around for years, sucking excess moisture from the air and leaving it to collect in bins we all too often dump out. Water-Gen, an Israeli water tech company, is adapting that same principle for practice use, wicking ambient moisture and condensing it into pure drinking water for those who need it most.
Even in the 21st century, water insecurity (that is, access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation services) is still a major issue. According to a 2013 study, 85% of the world’s population lives in the driest half other planet. That’s just over 6 billion people, with 780 million of them lacking any access to clean water and 2.5 billion lacking access to proper sanitation. It’s estimated that 6 to 8 million people die year after year due to water-related diseases or from consequences of natural disasters that further deny access to water clean enough to drink and bathe in.
Water, however, isn’t just for drinking and washing. The crops we harvest need clean water to thrive and the livestock we cultivate need to eat and drink too. The study also suggestions that “based on business as usual, [roughly] 3.5 planets Earth [sic] would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.” Given the fact we only have one livable planet to share and the world’s population expected to swell to over 8 billion by 2025, “we need more water” is a bit of an understatement.
Water-Gen has been in the water security business in more than one sense of the word. For years they’ve supplied government armies and military contractors with portable water generators and filtration systems, giving troops access to fresh water on base where natural springs may not exist. Now, like many other technologies who’ve grown to prominence in the military, they’ve turned to the civilian sector, scaling their machines to fit the needs of local government agencies and private citizens: “A few years ago, Water-Gen decided to turn its attention to civilian applications of its technology. The smallest water-from-air machines were a product of that, as was dehumidifying technology that’s now used in clothing dryers sold by Siemens and Beko.”
Maxim Pasik, the chairman of Water-Gen, further elaborated on the company’s main objective with Business Insider: “We think it’s possible to bring drinking water to all countries. Humidifiers, army solutions, etc. are a secondary issue. What’s important for us is to bring water to the people. This is a basic human right.”
The concept behind Water-Gen is simple enough: just as water droplets form on cool glass on a hot summer’s days, the machines use plastic “leaves” to funnel air from all directions, moving it towards an evaporator where water condenses into a clean, drinkable liquid.
With scale in mind, Water-Gen has three main variants for civilian use. Its largest roof-top-mounted collection system can be used throughout cities atop residential and commercial buildings, condensing and filtering up to 825 gallons of water a day. While it can be used in places like Flint, Michigan where water quality is less than ideal, these generators can either replace existing infrastructure or supplement and “decentralize” current ones, giving communities a renewable clean water source.
The mid-sized unit was originally meant for forward operating bases in the military, repurposed for mobile civilian use. Weighing just over 1,760 pounds, the generator is still light enough to be mounted on the backs of vehicles for emergency or temporary deployment, whether in the midst of disaster or on an extended camping vacation in the middle of nowhere. With an output of 118 gallons a day, this generator has its own built-in reservoir and treatment system as well as dispensing water at ambient or cold temperatures.
The smallest “GENNY” model might just dethrone the office water cooler’s spot in the sun. Termed a “plug and drink solution,” GENNY doesn’t need those massive plastic water tanks refilled every morning. On top of the built-in purification systems like its big brothers that keep water fresh and cool, GENNY can produce up to four gallons a day per unit, ideal for household or small office use.
Since water is condensed from ambient moisture, the only resources necessary for these machines to run is electricity. At present, these systems can produce water at ten cents a gallon given current energy costs, though these could be negated further if hooked up to a renewable energy source such as solar (or potentially photosynthetic) power.
It’s important to note, however, that Water-Gen’s systems don’t just produce water from nothing. Unit efficiency is largely determined by how humid the air is. As founder and co-CEO Arye Kohavi explained, “if it’s hotter or more humid, the system produces more than average, and if it’s colder and dryer, it produces less.” As a benchmark, the capacities listed above were tested at 80º F with 60% humidity.
While technology like this might seem like something straight out of science fiction, Water-Gen is one of several companies presenting its civilian models at the UN General Assembly this month. Currently being field tested in metropolises like Mumbai, Shanghai, and Mexico City in addition to “more rural locations,” the water generators are expected to be commercially available by the end of next year.
The only concern associated with these machines is realizing the true energy costs for deploying them on a wide scale, either at local or federal government levels. While using less energy than conventional means to treat and purify water, it’ll be interesting to see the technology’s effects on communities, off-setting traditional water costs and relieving overburdened water tables in one fell swoop. If these systems were paired primarily with solar panels or other renewable energy sources, the only energy and carbon costs would come from the machines’ construction and installation. But again, we can only get accurate numbers once the technology is used practically on a larger scale.
Though our current water shortage problem might be dire in the near future, technology like Water-Gen’s water generators could mitigate global disaster. If what Pasik says is true — that access to clean water is a basic human right — we not only have environmental responsibility to deal with, but moral societal responsibility as well. As always, it’s up to the innovative entrepreneurial types (like yourselves) to bring about the change the world and humanity needs.
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