If asked, most people will say that drinking water can come from reservoirs, lakes, rain and in recent years- through desalination- even the sea. The latest tech innovations prove that now water can also come out of thin air. Several companies, including Israeli startups, have already developed Atmospheric Water Generators (AWG) devices that can extract water from the humidity in the air. The AWG market at 2015 was valued at nearly a billion dollars and forecasts predict that it will grow at a CAGR of 20.1% by 2024 due to rising demand in industries like steel, paper, oil and gas.
Pilots conducted in places like arid Australia prove that AWG technology is no longer a farfetched dream. Last month, in a project done on behalf of the government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has commissioned the American company Zero Mass Water to deploy 150 of its solar-powered AWG hydropanels across multiple locations in the country (including Sydney, Adelaide, Perth). With $24 million from previous investors, Zero Mass already has hydropanels installed in 8 countries, including Ecuador, Jordan, Mexico, the Philippines and the US.
The Zero Mass Water hydropanels extract moisture from the air by exploiting solar-power, producing between 4 and 10 liters of clean drinking water on a typical day, depending on the climate. Each hydropanel weighs around 136 kilograms and consists of an array of 1.2 meter by 2.4 meter solar panels, an air filter, and a water reservoir that can hold up to 30 liters of water. Each solar panel costs about $2,000 and has a 15-year lifespan. The Australian pilot doesn’t regard it as an all-around water solution- but as a way to reduce the amount of bottled water used in the country and to provide a reliable draught-resistant water source for remote locations.
But Zero Mass aren’t the only ones developing AWG solutions. Water Gen, an Israeli company that signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the EPA, is also in the running to reach an all-around AWG solution. Water Gen positions itself as a solution for global water-stress and lately it’s been heavily PRed by Prime Minister Natanyahu. The company offers a large-scale solution for cities that can provide up to 5,000 liters of water a day for $120,000 per unit. Unlike Zero Mass, Water-Gen’s solution is powered by electricity. It’s efficient, and 1 Kilowatt is enough to produce 4 liters of water- so electricity costs should be relatively low. The company also provides a battery-based solution for emergencies that can provide up to 1,200 liters a day- much more than Zero Mass’s hydropanels. Yet battery-based units are not a long-term solution, and although Water Gen is much more efficient in terms of quantity, it’s also more expensive and requires a preexisting infrastructure.
Another solution is the Indian startup Uravu. Uravu is similar in its premise to Zero Mass: drawing water from the air powered by solar energy. Unlike Zero Mass, however, it can draw 50 liters a day and aims to get to 2,000 liters by its commercial debut this summer. Another contender is MIT’s solar powered and metal-organic framework (MOF) based device which can draw water from the air even with critically low humidity levels thanks to the chemistry behind it. It’s still in developmental stages, but could be an interesting competitor to the other solutions currently on the market.