As drought ravages many parts of the world, water is becoming ever more precious. But the air we breathe is full of water. There’s more water in the air than in all of Earth’s rivers combined. If only we could stick a straw in it. One tech start-up has found a way to do that. Sort of. The company is SOURCE Global and its breakthrough hydropanels are in operation in places like Saudi Arabia, Western Australia and the Warm Springs Reservation in arid central Oregon.
Here, four-by-eight-foot panels hum through the day and shut off at night. They’re set up on cinder blocks, not plugged into anything. Each weighs about 340 pounds dry, but get heavier as they slowly fill with water absorbed from the surrounding atmosphere. A row of fans draws air into each panel, where it’s moved through a hygroscopic mesh material, which separates the water from the oxygen. The same sunlight that powers the fans provides heat that drives condensation, allowing water to gather in an internal reservoir. If you’ve ever built a solar still to gather condensation for drinking in the wild, you get the idea.
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After creating pure, distilled water, the panel pumps the water into a tap. If the line isn’t opened, the water circulates internally to keep it pure until somebody drains it. The next day, it’ll be full again—as long as it’s sunny outside.
The hydropanels work off-grid and are self-contained. If they look like solar panels it’s because solar energy drives their internal electronics. Each panel generates about a gallon and a half of water per day, depending on climate conditions.
“This is technology developed in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, with sub-10-percent relative humidity for significant parts of the year where dehumidifiers do not work,” says SOURCE Global senior director Colin Goddard. “We are uniquely able to make water in those places.”
SOURCE Global isn’t the only company to develop a device that creates drinking water from the air. Exaeris’ AcquaTap, which debuted at CES 2021, has a similar function, but is designed as a portable gadget for recreational users.
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SOURCE says its mission is to bring drinking water to communities where it’s otherwise difficult to access.
“We’re sourcing 160 gallons a day on average,” says Warm Springs Economic Development Corporation CEO Jim Souers. In a place where drinking water infrastructure is badly needed, the panels are a sparkling fix.