Skywater Wins XPrize
During Visioneering 2018, XPRIZE’s annual gathering of philanthropists and innovators to evaluate concepts for future competitions, the Foundation revealed the results of its latest, completed XPRIZE. The Skysource / Skywater Alliance was announced as the grand prize winner of the $1.75M Water Abundance XPRIZE, a two-year competition aimed at alleviating the global water crisis with energy-efficient technologies that harvest fresh water from thin air. 97 teams from 27 countries participated in the competition.
The Water Abundance XPRIZE, powered by the Tata Group and Australian Aid, was launched in 2016 at the United Nations in New Delhi. The Skysource / Skywater Alliance, based in Venice Beach, California, received a grand prize of $1.5M for developing an easily deployable high-volume water generator that can be used in any climate, meeting the competition parameters of extracting a minimum of 2,000 liters of water per day from the atmosphere using 100 percent renewable energy, at a cost of no more than two cents per liter. A second team, JMCC WING, based in South Point, Hawaii, received a $150K prize to acknowledge the team’s ingenuity in developing a unique technological approach.
This Machine Can Make Gallons Of Fresh Drinking Water Right Out Of Thin Air
By Doug Criss
October 25, 2018
Machines designed by a California-based team can produce, in some cases, up to 300 gallons of fresh drinking water a day by pulling it straight from the air. And the team just won a $1.5 million prize for it.
The machines, dubbed Skywater, were created by the Skysource/Skywater Alliance, a team of sustainability experts from Venice, California. Skywater machines, housed in big metal boxes, are atmospheric water generators that condense water vapor from the atmosphere and turn it into drinking water. The machines can be powered by solar energy or the burning of biofuels. Depending on the model, they can be used for households, for farming or for emergency relief efforts.
The prize, called the Water Abundance XPRIZE, was awarded Saturday by XPRIZE, a California nonprofit that runs competitions with sometimes multimillion dollars in prize money aimed at creating solutions for the world’s problems. The Water Abundance XPRIZE was a two-year competition that sought to find answers to the global water crisis by facilitating the development of new technologies.
David Hertz, one of leaders of the Skysource/Skywater Alliance, says he’s excited about what the Skywater machines could do for people living in parts of the world where water is becoming more scarce.
“I’ve just been very, very interested in water … but also the importance of fresh water to mankind,” Hertz, an architect who specializes in constructing sustainable buildings, says in a video on the team’s website. “And in being in California, the issues are fast approaching crisis proportions.”
Hertz says there’s more than enough water vapor in the air from which the machines can extract to produce gallons of water every day. Hertz estimates there’s about “37.5 million billion gallons of water” in the atmosphere at any given time, which Skysource says is more fresh water than in all the rivers on Earth.
THIS TOWER PULLS DRINKING WATER OUT OF THIN AIR
By Tuan C. Nguyen
April 8, 2014
In some parts of Ethiopia, finding potable water is a six-hour journey.
People in the region spend 40 billion hours a year trying to find and collect water, says a group called the Water Project. And even when they find it, the water is often not safe, collected from ponds or lakes teeming with infectious bacteria, contaminated with animal waste or other harmful substances.
The water scarcity issue — which affects nearly 1 billion people in Africa alone — has drawn the attention of big-name philanthropists like actor and Water.org co-founder Matt Damon and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who, through their respective nonprofits, have poured millions of dollars into research and solutions, coming up with things like a system that converts toilet water to drinking water and a “Re-invent the Toilet Challenge,” among others.
Critics, however, have their doubts about integrating such complex technologies in remote villages that don’t even have access to a local repairman. Costs and maintenance could render many of these ideas impractical.
“If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything,” wrote one critic, Toilets for People founder Jason Kasshe, in a New York Times editorial, “it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work.”
Other low-tech inventions, like this life straw, aren’t as complicated, but still rely on users to find a water source.
It was this dilemma — supplying drinking water in a way that’s both practical and convenient — that served as the impetus for a new product called Warka Water, an inexpensive, easily-assembled structure that extracts gallons of fresh water from the air.
The invention from Arturo Vittori, an industrial designer, and his colleague Andreas Vogler doesn’t involve complicated gadgetry or feats of engineering, but instead relies on basic elements like shape and material and the ways in which they work together.
At first glance, the 30-foot-tall, vase-shaped towers, named after a fig tree native to Ethiopia, have the look and feel of a showy art installation. But every detail, from carefully-placed curves to unique materials, has a functional purpose.
The rigid outer housing of each tower is comprised of lightweight and elastic juncus stalks, woven in a pattern that offers stability in the face of strong wind gusts while still allowing air to flow through. A mesh net made of nylon or polypropylene, which calls to mind a large Chinese lantern, hangs inside, collecting droplets of dew that form along the surface. As cold air condenses, the droplets roll down into a container at the bottom of the tower. The water in the container then passes through a tube that functions as a faucet, carrying the water to those waiting on the ground.
Using mesh to facilitate clean drinking water isn’t an entirely new concept. A few years back, an MIT student designed a fog-harvesting device with the material. But Vittori’s invention yields more water, at a lower cost, than some other concepts that came before it.
“[In Ethiopia], public infrastructures do not exist and building [something like] a well is not easy,” Vittori says of the country. “To find water, you need to drill in the ground very deep, often as much as 1,600 feet. So it’s technically difficult and expensive. Moreover, pumps need electricity to run as well as access to spare parts in case the pump breaks down.”
So how would Warka Water’s low-tech design hold up in remote sub-Saharan villages? Internal field tests have shown that one Warka Water tower can supply more than 25 gallons of water throughout the course of a day, Vittori claims. He says because the most important factor in collecting condensation is the difference in temperature between nightfall and daybreak, the towers are proving successful even in the desert, where temperatures, in that time, can differ as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The structures, made from biodegradable materials, are easy to clean and can be erected without mechanical tools in less than a week. Plus, he says, “once locals have the necessary know-how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the Warka.”
In all, it costs about $500 to set up a tower — less than a quarter of the cost of something like the Gates toilet, which costs about $2,200 to install and more to maintain. If the tower is mass produced, the price would be even lower, Vittori says. His team hopes to install two Warka Towers in Ethiopia by next year and is currently searching for investors who may be interested in scaling the water harvesting technology across the region.
“It’s not just illnesses that we’re trying to address. Many Ethiopian children from rural villages spend several hours every day to fetch water, time they could invest for more productive activities and education,” he says. “If we can give people something that lets them be more independent, they can free themselves from this cycle.”
Other Warka Water Articles:
• Handwoven Dew Collecting Tower Aims To Ease Africa’s Water Crisis
• This Tower Pulls Drinking Water Out of Thin Air
• The 30ft High Bamboo ‘Flower Basket’ That Can Pluck Drinking Water From Thin Air
• A Giant Basket That Uses Condensation to Gather Drinking Water
Clean Water Foundation
Hector Pino’s Fresh Water Machine
Professor Omar Yaghi & MOF Technology
New Solar Technology Could Produce Clean Drinking Water For Millions In Need
By Robert F. Service
June 28, 2019
Tanklike devices called solar stills use the sun to evaporate dirty or salty water and condense the vapor into safe drinking water. But large, expensive stills can only produce enough water for a small family. Now, researchers have developed a new material that speeds the process of evaporation, enabling a small solar still to provide all the drinking water one family needs. If the technology proves cheap enough, it could provide millions of impoverished people access to clean drinking water.
Today 783 million, or nearly one in 10, people around the world lack such access, according to UNICEF. These people spend a collective 200 million hours a day fetching water from distant sources. And even though technologies exist for purifying contaminated water and desalinating seawater, these typically require expensive infrastructure and lots of energy, putting them beyond the reach of many communities.
Recently, researchers have been working to upgrade solar stills as a cheap, low-tech alternative. The traditional still is little more than a black-bottomed vessel filled with water and topped with clear glass or plastic. The black bottom absorbs sunlight, heating water so that it evaporates and leaves the contaminants behind. The water vapor then condenses on the clear covering and trickles into a collector.
But the output is low because the sun’s rays must heat the entire volume of water before evaporation begins. Commercially available versions produce about 0.3 liters of water per hour per square meter (L/h/m2) of the covered water’s surface area. The average person requires about 3 liters of water a day for drinking. Providing enough drinking water for a small family requires a still around 5 square meters in size. Operating at their theoretical best, such devices can only produce 1.6 L/h/m2.
Guihua Yu, a materials scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, and colleagues recently reported a way around this limit. It involves hydrogels, polymer mixtures that form a 3D porous, water—absorbent network. Yu and colleagues fashioned a gellike sponge of two polymers—one a water-binding polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the other a light absorber called polypyrrole (PPy)—which they then placed atop the water’s surface in a solar still.
Inside the gel, a layer of water molecules bonded tightly to the PVA, each forming multiple chemical links known as hydrogen bonds. But with so much of their bonding ability tied up with the PVA, the bound water molecules bind only loosely to other nearby water molecules, creating what Yu calls “intermediate water.” Because intermediate water molecules share fewer bonds with their neighbors, they evaporate more readily than regular water. And when they do, they’re immediately replaced by other water molecules in the still. Using this technology, Yu’s solar still produced 3.2 L/h/m2 of water, double the theoretical limit, his team reported last year in Nature Nanotechnology.
Now, Yu and his colleagues have created an even better hydrogel. They mixed in a third polymer, called chitosan, which also strongly attracts water. Adding chitosan to the mix created a gel that could hold more water—and increased the amount of intermediate water as a result. A still using the new hydrogel distilled water at a rate of 3.6 L/h/m2, the highest rate ever reported and about 12 times the amount produced by today’s commercially available versions, the researchers report today in Science Advances.
“This is a fantastic starting point,” says Peng Wang, an environmental engineer at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. Wang notes that at this higher water production rate, a solar still 1 square meter in size could produce about 30 liters of clean drinking water per day, enough for a small family. Even better, he says, all three polymers in the hydrogel are both commercially available and cheap. That means that if the stills using them are rugged enough, they could help provide clean water for those who need it most.
More Water From Thin Air Breakthroughs
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