Innovative Ways to Collect Water from Air

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

World water resources are being depleted quickly as populations grow, urbanize and demand better living standards. Many scientists believe we are reaching peak water – the point at which fresh water is consumed faster than it is replenished.

According to Ensia (ensia.com), a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action, 70 per cent of the earth’s fresh water reserves are locked up in snow or ice, and are expensive to tap and bring to the world’s water-stressed places. Of the remainder, most is in groundwater, soil moisture, swamps or permafrost, while just 0.3 per cent is easy to access in freshwater lakes and rivers.

By far the biggest user of water in the world – accounting for 69 per cent of the total – is farm irrigation. That’s a serious concern when considering the world will need to grow more food to feed an increasing population. Just 1 per cent of water is used for livestock, while 15 per cent is used for electricity generation and 7 per cent for manufacturing. More water is currently being pumped from underground resources than is being replaced from underground aquifers.

The average person needs to consume 0.6 to 1.3 gallons (2.72 liters to 6 liters) of water per day to survive in a moderate climate. For drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation, an individual needs 13 gallons (59 liters) a day (Ensia).

In many places, obtaining water requires a long trek to a well or stream. But non-desert climates have water as a resource readily available all around – trapped in the air. The clue to this resource’s existence is in the air’s humidity levels, the most visible sign of which is the dew that is found covering the grass and leaves every morning when people wake up. The trick is to extract that water from the air and create a steady supply of this essential resource.

Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori (http://www.vittori-lab.com/team/arturo-vittori), a lecturer on aerospace architecture, technology transfer and sustainability, believes he has an answer.

Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/2014/03/warka-water-africa/) reported that Vittori was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia, where he observed the daily struggle to get water. Access to water in northeastern Ethiopia often requires a long walk, which reduces the amount of time left in the day to do other things. Parents often take along their children, meaning the children cannot go to school. The time consumed by gathering water leaves people poorer and unable to dedicate more of their day to income-earning activities.

And there is no guarantee the water is safe to drink or free of chemical contaminants. This situation left Vittori pondering ways of coming up with an inexpensive solution that would eliminate the daily hassle of finding water and guarantee its quality.

The answer was a WarkaWater Tower (http://www.architectureandvision.com/projects/chronological/84-projects/art/492-073-warkawater-2012?showall=&start=1). The bamboo structure – which looks like an upended, latticework funnel – captures the dew and moisture in the air and collects it in a basket at the bottom.

The water collector is inspired by the Warka tree, or Ficus vasta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_vasta). Native to Ethiopia, it is known for providing shade and as a rendezvous point for traditional gatherings.

A WarkaWater Tower stands 8 meters in height and is made from either bamboo or reeds. Inside, a mesh traps humidity from the air and the water drips down into a basket. One tower can gather around 94 liters of water a day. The water is right there in the community and not kilometers away, meaning time and energy saved for income-generating tasks.

A WarkaWater Tower is constructed in sections, which are assembled and then stacked on top of each other. The construction does not need special scaffolding or special machinery. Once the tower is in place, it can also be used as a solar-power generator.

The tower is still a prototype and Vittori plans to build two towers for a launch in 2015.

In Peru, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune (http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=700400&CategoryId=14095), another innovative solution to the water crisis has been developed by students at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) (http://www.utec.edu.pe/Utec.aspx). The students have developed a highway advertising billboard that can draw drinking water out of the air. Inspired by a campaign called “Ingenuity in Action”, the students teamed up with a local advertising agency to design the billboard. It is capable of extracting water from the air and processing it through a filtration system as it flows down to a series of taps at the bottom.

The water-making billboard is at the 89.5 kilometer distance marker of the Pan-American Highway and has five electric-powered tanks that can hold a total of 96 liters of drinkable water. It is capable of providing enough water for hundreds of families. A true sign of our times!

Resources

1) How to Build a Rainwater Collection System. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Rainwater-Collection-System

2) The geopolitical difficulties of access to water covered in The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story about the Aral Sea Catastrophe by Robert Ferguson. Website: amazon.com

3) “Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface” from The Guardian. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jun/13/earth-may-have-underground-ocean-three-times-that-on-surface

An article on the impact of the water crisis on food supplies. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/09/enjoy-your-coffee-you-may-soon-not-be-able-to-afford-it

5) How to Make Water in the Desert. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Water-in-the-Desert

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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