Adopting creative methods for clean water capture and reuse will define the future of water consumption.
Within the next decade, we will see significant changes in how we use water, and in what applications. Human activities such as urban development, industry, and agriculture have increased the demand for water resources and have complicated the distribution. While water is considered a renewable resource, availability is dependent on the rate of our water cycle; thus, internalizing this natural process will become critical if we are to solve future demands.
Atmospheric Water Generation (or AWG) is the process of collecting water vapor from air and condensing it into drinkable water. Through condensation, AWG can tap into the natural processes of the water cycle without disrupting it. The amount of water vapor that exists in our atmosphere varies depending on the location and geography, but small amounts of water always exist in the air, even in the most arid of climates. Passive water generation is found in nature and has been discovered in early civilizations! Over time, we have developed technology to accelerate the process.
One methodology is cooling, which mimics the ancient practice of air wells to drive warm air from the atmosphere into a container. When the warm air encounters a cool surface within the container, it condensates, drips into a capture bin, and produces potable water. A ‘cooling style water generator’ relies on energy consumption equivalent to that of a space heater or fan. Domestic applications are currently used to reduce the need for plastic water bottles and also used by those who desire fresh water without added chemicals.
Another popular method uses chemicals to extract water from the air in a process called, “wet desiccant atmospheric water generation”. Desiccants are solids that absorb moisture from ambient air. Salt brines or other substances are used to attract water from the air like a magnet and hold within its crystalline structure like a sponge. The desiccant is then re-heated and the resulting steam is captured for filtering and processing. This process supports communities in arid regions, industrial applications, and military operations; it is known to be more energy efficient than cooling.
Advancements in AWG are now leaning towards renewable sources of energy. Green atmospheric water generation is a critical step towards water autonomy and security; it is also practical to deploy in emergency situations, such as the installation of hydropanels as a source of freshwater for the Navajo Nation during the COVID crisis. While the technology itself is impressive, the most compelling aspect of AWG is the opportunity to close the gap in access to clean drinking water.
By tapping into the natural rhythms of the water cycle, AWG provides us with fresh water that we can allocate for a single purpose. The exploration and adoption of atmospheric water generation will strategically position us to close equity gaps and respond to the growing needs of future generations.
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