Purifying Water Out of Thin Air

Adam Eisman - Contributing Writer
Posted on Saturday 30th May 2009
The United Nations has declared 2005-2015 the International Decade for Water, as diminishing supplies of fresh water affect millions around the globe. Estimates suggest that as many as 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity by 2025. Many humanitarian agencies have been working on the problem for years now with some success; however the problem is not necessarily being solved, but just ameliorated. But now, a Canadian company called Element Four has created a new product that will help to harvest drinkable water right out of thin air. The product, called the WaterMill, will be able to draw moisture out of the air, purify it, and spit out water that is clean and drinkable. They are also in production of a larger unit that combines many smaller cells to create a WaterWall, or a wall of cells that is capable of creating enough water for an entire village. Both products work by drawing air in through a filter, where it is cooled into water droplets. The water then passes through a filter and is exposed to ultraviolet light, ridding it of bacteria. The lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitary conditions lead to many water borne illnesses in the developing world from cholera to dysentery. The diseases can in turn cause a life-threatening form of diarrhea, and diarrheal deaths are the leading cause of death from infectious disease, especially among the population under 5 years old. Despite the respite that the WaterMill and WaterWall offer from global thirst, the product relies on the amount of relative humidity in the air, and would not work at all in areas where there is not 35% relative humidity. Dryer regions will not be able to utilize the technology. Another problem with the WaterWall is that it requires a lot of energy to drive the water purification process. Fragile power grids may not be able to handle the load, despite the built in feature of powering up in stages in hopes not to overload the grid. Experts are mixed, as many feel that the electricity requirements may prohibit poorer communities from being able to use the machine. The initial cost is estimated to lie somewhere in the $300 range, however no matter how low the initial cost, it will become a problem of logistics to power such equipment for any amount of time. There is cause for hope, however, as Element Four is in talks with some humanitarian groups for larger-scale production of the WaterMill and WaterWall. The WaterMill is already available for purchase to use in homes, and runs about $1,300 for one unit.

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