These Water Harvesting Technologies Turn Air Into Drinking Water On Tap

One of the most valuable modern technologies is the atmospheric water generator (AWG). It pulls water straight out of the air around us. Several kinds have emerged, developed by different companies. Some were created in response to water scarcity problems worldwide, and others aimed at convenience while reducing plastic bottle use and carbon emissions. Some are large installations to supply communities or households, while others are small mobile units for off-grid nomads. But all of them efficiently pull water vapor out of the atmosphere and collect it as filtered drinking water.

Air-To-Water On The Go

This large Watergen unit, the GEN-M, supplies up to 211 gallons of clean water a day
This large Watergen unit, the GEN-M, supplies up to 211 gallons of clean water a day. (Credit: Watergen)

Watergen, an Israeli AWG company, has been perfecting its air-to-water technology for decades. Its first products were large installations designed to supply businesses, towns, and residential buildings. However, its latest innovations are smaller and portable. The company shrunk its water-harvesting technology to be travel-sized for vehicles like trucks, RVs, and tiny home dwellers.

2019 mobile air-to-water generator for cars
2019 mobile air-to-water generator for cars. (Credit: Watergen)

In 2019, it debuted an automotive AWG system for everyday cars that consisted of the generator outside connected to a tap inside located over the cupholders. It recently modified the mobile device to fit more oversized vehicles that spend long hours traveling because it makes more sense than a car doing short commutes. Off-grid explorers taking a road trip through places without much access to water, or truckers long-hauling cargo would benefit from a mobile air-to-water generator more than someone just going from work to home.

The Watergen On Board system integrates with a vehicle's plumbing system so users can access the clean water from the sinks tap
The Watergen On Board system integrates with a vehicle’s plumbing system so users can access the clean water from the sinks tap. (Credit: Watergen)

Watergen has named this versatile item the Mobile Box. It uses electricity from the vehicle (via a 12- or 220-V outlet) to pull moisture out of the sky by sucking in air through a fan. First, the air goes through a filtration system, then a patented heat exchanger that extracts the water through condensation, which is then processed through a multi-level UV light filtration system. Finally, the purified water ends in a reservoir that’s linked to a tap. Users can also remove the reservoir to empty the water into another storage container to free up space for more freshwater production.

Aerogel – No Electricity Required

Water vapor is always around us in the air, even in dry conditions. But what if you don’t have electricity to run a generator? Scientists from the National University of Singapore developed a ‘smart’ spongey aerogel that turns airborne water molecules into a drinkable liquid without needing an external power source or moving parts.

Prof. Ho Ghim Wei, who led the research team, said:

Given that atmospheric water is continuously replenished by the global hydrological cycle, our invention offers a promising solution for achieving sustainable freshwater production in a variety of climatic conditions, at a minimal energy cost.

Samples of the newly developed 'smart' aerogel that turns air vapor into drinkable water
Samples of the newly developed ‘smart’ aerogel that turns air vapor into drinkable water. (Credit: National University of Singapore)

NUS’s hybrid material offers a chemical structure that continuously and simultaneously attracts and repels water. This means the aerogel can autonomously absorb water molecules from the air, condense them into a liquid form and then release it, similar to a sponge. However, it doesn’t need to be squeezed to release its collected substance like a sponge. So while the aerogel doesn’t need sunlight to operate, it does boost its water-repelling abilities and enables it to turn 95% of the collected vapor into liquid water.

In the laboratory, the NUS researchers demonstrated the material’s continuous operation for up to 1,440 hours, with the water it produced meeting the WHO’s standards for drinkable water. In addition, the team found that 2.2 lb (1 kg) of the material can create as much as 4.5 gallons (17 liters) of water per day in humid conditions. However, the aerogel allegedly weighs almost nothing, so it might require a considerable amount of space to store a collector of that size.

Fog Catcher

Fog catchers
Fog catchers. (Credit: Dar Si Hmad)

Another power-less idea is the fog catcher by nonprofit Dar Si Hmad. The organization installed the fog collectors on Mount Boutmezguida in the Sidi Ifni region of Morocco. It is now the largest fog-harvesting project globally, with around 6,300 liters of water harvested daily.

The best part is, it is not a complicated process at all! The mist is caught as it passes through a weave of large vertical nets and trickles into a collection system where it is filtered and mixed with groundwater. The water is then piped into five villages, where it provides clean and safe water for 400 people.

Using Sunlight

In some Navajo Nation regions, like Oljato on the Arizona-Utah border, a single fixture on the road is the only water source around for nearly a thousand residents. In other areas, residents have to drive miles into town from their rural homes to buy all the water they need for drinking, cleaning, cooking, and livestock. There’s no piping infrastructure to bring water to families.

HydroPanels. (Credit: Navajo Power)

Fortunately, local Navajo governments and Navajo Power partnered up with the public benefit corporation Zero Mass Water. This company supplies Source hydro-panels that use sunlight to absorb moisture in the air. The initial demonstration project consisted of 15 houses receiving two Source panels that connect to a tap inside the home for free. The setup provides six to ten liters of fresh water per day or enough clean drinking water for two to three people.

The way it works is relatively simple. Solar energy heats a sponge-like material to create condensation. The condensation accumulates and is collected in a 30-liter reservoir. The water in the tank is filtered, and minerals are added to improve the taste of the water. The system can be connected to a fountain or tap within a home or building to access the ready-to-drink water easily.

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