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Device that harvests 2,000 liters of water from the air wins XPrize



The Skysource / Skywater Alliance
rendering of Skysource/Skywater Alliance’s shipping container
design for making drinking water out of air.

The Skysource / Skywater Alliance

  • About 2.1 billion people around the world do not have
    immediate access to clean drinking water.
  • The Water Abundance XPrize
    rewards innovators who come up with new ways to
    harvest clean water from the atmosphere.
  • This year, the winning design can produce at least 2,000
    liters of water per day, which would satisfy the needs of 100

A California-based team of architects has built a shipping
container that can harvest enough water from the air to satisfy
100 people’s daily needs.

Architects David Hertz and Rich Gordon recently received $1.5
million as the winners of the Water Abundance XPrize, a
competition that aims to help alleviate global water shortages.

About 2.1
billion people
around the world lack immediate access to
clean drinking water, and the
US Defense Intelligence Agency estimates
 that water
requirements will exceed supplies by 40% shortage by 2030.

The XPrize competition was created in 2016 to address that
problem by rewarding designers who come up with new ways to pull
fresh water out of thin air.

Nearly 100 teams entered this year’s competition, and two
finalists were asked to test their devices last month. The
finalists had to show that their inventions could extract at
least 2,000 liters of water per day, at a cost of less than 2
cents per liter.

According to a press release, Hertz and Gordon’s team, called
Skysource/Skywater Alliance, won the grand prize because it
“demonstrated the greatest ability to create decentralized access
to water.”

How the system works

Skysource/Skywater Alliance’s creation is
called “WeDew,” which stands
wood-to-energy deployed water system. It’s
a combination of two existing devices. The first, Skywater, is a generator
that imitates a cloud — it cools warm air and stores the
resulting condensation inside a tank. Water in the shipping
container’s tank can then be accessed via a tap or water

The condensation process requires electricity, so the
architects also incorporated a biomass gasifier into their system
as a low-cost energy source,
as Fast Company reported
. Gasifiers can take in organic
material and vaporize it to produce a gas mixture of hydrogen,
carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide that serves as a

A gasifier can be filled with various types of biomass,
including coconut shells and pieces of pine trees. The
vaporization creates heat and humidity, which help the
water-gathering device operate efficiently. In addition, the
gasifier produces biochar as a byproduct, a carbon-rich substance
that can be put in soil to help plants grow.

“It’s a carbon-negative technology,” Hertz told Fast Company. “I
think the future of technologies is going to be moving to this
restorative, regenerative model that actually helps to repair the
damage we’ve done.”

A race to pull water from the air 

The new XPrize winner joins a growing number of teams working on
devices that can produce water from the air. This year’s
runner-up, Hawaii-based JMCC
, received $150,000 for a wind-energy system that
extracts water from the atmosphere.

Researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio also recently
developing a prototype water harvester
that could produce up
to 10 gallons of drinking water every hour.

Dr. Josh Wong, a professor of mechanical engineering at the
University of Akron, previously told Business Insider that he
hopes the water harvester can be used in regions where water is
scarce. Wong presented his findings at an American Chemical
Society meeting in August, and is working to secure enough
funding for developing a prototype. He said his design would be
cheaper than other similar concepts, and he expects it to be
smaller as well — it may take the form of a backpack.

Earlier this year, scientists at the University of California,
Berkeley, also developed a device that can harvest fresh water
from the air using just the sun’s heat. The group tested a
prototype in Arizona and published the results of their trial in
the journal Science
. Their device can yield about 7 ounces of water in
24 hours, which isn’t enough to keep someone hydrated. But the

scientists said in a video
that scaling the system up would
be relatively easy. 

Another startup, Zero
Mass Water
, uses
solar energy to produce heat and harvest liquid water
vapor in the air. The startup launched its first product, Source,
in 2015, and it has since installed devices in more than a dozen
countries. Source became available in the US late last year.

Hertz and Gordon, meanwhile, are planning to start teaming up
with nonprofits to implement their prize-winning technology all
over the world, according to Fast Company. They said the shipping
containers could one day help provide drinking water in areas hit
by natural disasters.

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