Creating water from thin air

Our planet’s supply of clean drinking water is dwindling, and lack of clean water is one of the many environmental problems looming in our future. Industrial and agricultural contamination, over use, and population growth threaten to make water as scarce and valuable as oil.  So, it’s heartening to learn that a small company in France, Eole Water, has been working to address the world’s water shortage problem by creating water from the air we breathe.

Eole Water designs wind turbines that not only generate electricity but also extract moisture out of the air passing through the system. The end product is clean, filtered purified, drinking water. Thibault Janin, director of marketing at Eole Water, envisions communities in Africa and South America, as well as remote islands in Asia that have little or no access to safe drinking water, as potential beneficiaries of the technology. He gives the example of Indonesia that has thousands of islands and has no way to centralize their water supply. Eventually the energy and water producing turbines could be used in smaller cities. Eole Water has installed a prototype in the desert near Abu Dhabi. In that very dry climate, it produces 62 liters of water an hour.

How bad is the world water shortage problem?

The following statistics are from Eole Water’s website:

  • 1.1 billion people have no access to safe water and 2.6 billion people do not have basic sanitation.
  • More than a third of humanity (over 2 billion people) survives with less than 5 liters of water per day.
  • Now estimated at 6.6 billion, world population is growing by 80 million each year. The demand for freshwater will increase by about 64 billion cubic meters a year. This data is in addition to the effects of global warming and growing pressure on groundwater, lakes and rivers.
  • The lack of water is responsible for 7 seven deaths every minute or 3.6 million people per year.
  • Access to drinking water is not a measure of water quality. Between 3 and 4 billion people have access to drinking water of poor quality.
  • Pollution from industry and consumerism are deteriorating the last water sources available.
  • 97% of people in rural areas of Asia and South America do have not access to safe drinking water
  • 14% of people drink water from rivers and lakes, shared with animals
  • In July 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized water quality access and sanitation installation as a human right.

How do you create water from air?

There’s water in the air around us all the time; we just can’t see it. According to the Department of Energy, when it’s hot and humid, evaporated water can make up as much as 6 percent of the air we breathe. On cold, dry days it can be as low as .07

Our air is part of the Earth’s water cycle. It goes like this: Water evaporates out of rivers, lakes and the ocean. It’s carried up into the atmosphere, where it can collect into clouds, which are accumulations of water vapor. After the clouds reach their saturation point, water droplets form, which we experience as rain. This rain runs off the land and collects into bodies of water, where the whole process begins again.

The problem is, the water cycle is not predictable and goes through dry periods. Because of this, inventors like Eole Water have begun to see the wisdom in not waiting for nature. Why not pull the water vapor right out of the air, all the time, 24/7?

The Eole Water technology works by first generating electricity from the wind, which enables the entire water generating system to function. Then air is sucked in through the nose of the turbine and directed through an electric cooling compressor situated behind the propellers. The compressor extracts the humidity from the air and condenses it into water. The water is then transferred down stainless steel pipes to a storage tank in the base of the turbine. Once there, the water is filtered, purified and made ready for use and consumption.

One turbine can produce, on average, up to 1,000 liters of water every day, depending on the level of humidity, temperature and wind speeds. Right now the initial cost of the technology is prohibitive—$660,000 to $790,000 per turbine. But with economies of scale, the price could fall, and many people living in remote areas of the world, and even not so remote areas, could have could have a source of clean water produced by renewal energy.  Access to clean water, a human right, would help eradicate many illnesses as well as provide a boost for  subsistence economies.

There’s plenty of money in the world to make this technology available to those who need it. There just needs to be the will to make it happen.