Is obtaining drinking water from the air a solution for the future?

Is obtaining drinking water from the air a solution for the future?

Capturing moisture and transforming it into water: then filtering and mineralizing it to adapt it to human, agricultural and industrial uses. It seemed an experimental hypothesis, but today it has become a real option to cope with the scarcity of fresh water that invests and will increasingly affect the planet. Proof of this is also the agreement between Sociètè de l'eau aèrienne suisse (Seas) and a company in the United Arab Emirates to develop these processing plants. According to the agreement, 3,000 devices will be produced for the generation of drinking water from the air: each will have a daily production potential of 30 liters.

How air is transformed into water It could be a science fiction story. Indeed, according to one of Arthur C. Clarke's three laws:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

Yet it is real: the system developed by the Swiss Seas captures moisture and condensation to create water. The latter is filtered, then subjected to an antibacterial treatment and finally mineralized. So much so that the final process provides not only drinking water, but high quality water. Furthermore, the system allows the final product to be adapted according to human, agricultural or industrial applications. Not only that: Seas explains that its systems allow customers to obtain a lot of thermal energy to be used to produce cold air for air conditioning and heat to heat sanitary water. Which means offsetting the cost of energy required for water production.

The agreement signed by the subsidiary of Seas (Trooss seas engineering) with the Economic Council of Tawazun, a company of the defense and security industry operating in the United Arab Emirates, intends to develop these new plants in Abu Dhabi, for both civil and military use. The novelty lies in the large-scale commercialization of these devices, not in their invention. In fact, one of the Seas luminaires was presented at Expo 2015.

At that time, the Swiss company was experimenting with these new tools in a hotel, an oil company headquarters in Mexico, and a cheese factory in Peru. In a conference at Expo Anna Magrini, professor at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Pavia who collaborated in the implementation of the system explained that "unlike reverse osmosis technologies, such as desalination or purification or the treatment of waste water, that of Seas guarantees a low or zero environmental impact, not releasing impurities into the local ecosystem and offering an unlimited source of drinking water ".

Other technological innovations to transform air into water The dispenser that transforms air in drinking water According to the manufacturers it is able to deliver up to 10 liters of alkaline water per day, enriching it with 7 essential natural minerals Read the article Apparently, the first to have dealt with it in the modern age was in 1900 Friedrich Zibold, a Russian engineer. Observing piles of ancient stones with a mysterious purpose in the remains of the ancient city of Feodosia, in the Crimea, Zibold hypothesized that they were tools for condensing water from the air. He tried to replicate how it worked and it seems that in 1912 his system was capable of producing 360 liters of H 2 2 O per day. But there is no official evidence that his experiment was successful.

In much more recent times, scientists have begun to study a species of beetle that lives in the Namibian desert: one of the driest places in the world. The insect takes advantage of the fog that occasionally touches the desert, letting the water droplets condense on its body and then slide down to the mouth. By studying the anatomy of the beetle, scientists tried to replicate the structure of its abdomen using 3D printing. So as to create apparatuses of similar shape capable of condensing the desert fog.

There are also machines invented in California and Spain, with purposes similar to those of Seas. But they are either too expensive or not very functional to a large-scale supply. Otherwise, the University of Chile is experimenting with polypropylene nets capable of capturing the water condensed by the water vapor passing through the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth.

Credits: Nicole Saffie via Flickr

Unfortunately, the results are still poor in quantitative terms, although the University of Akron, Ohio, is developing similar but more effective solutions. There are also many other examples of equipment for transforming air into water. One of the simplest is the Fontus bottle, equipped with a system that allows it to be filled independently and with the great advantage of being portable. It works by allowing moist air to enter the device, where it is exposed to what are called hydrophobic "teeth".

Credits: Fontus

It is something like the bristles of a toothbrush. These 'teeth' force the water vapor to condense to form droplets ready for collection. Power is provided by a small rechargeable solar panel battery integrated into the device. But clearly it is more of a solution for hikers than a method to tackle the very serious problem of water supply in parched areas.

The problem of water scarcity between present and future The 3000 devices installed in Abu Dhabi will be in capable of producing about 100 thousand liters of water in a single day. To give a dimension to the problem of water dispersion, it is the same liters that, according to Istat, are lost in Italy in just one second due to the state of our pipelines. According to UN-Water, 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries, including 733 million in high and critical countries. But it is half of the world population who live in areas potentially at risk of water supply, while already in less than ten years 700 million human beings may have to migrate due to the scarcity of water in their places of origin. To see what the state of waterways in the world is, FAO has created an interactive map called Aquastat.

The atlas of the risks we run due to the climate crisis, if we don't hurry to change The latest United Nations report paints a picture of the risks and consequences that the world will have to face if we fail to curb global warming and adapt our society Read the article A study published last October shows that in 2050 as many as 87 out of 180 countries will have insufficient annual renewable water resources per capita and 25 more nations than in 2015 will be in a serious situation per capita in terms of water supply.

Credits: Freshwater availability status across countries for human and ecosystem needs (Elsevier, 2021) | authoritative, there must be the conservation of one's resources and the optimization of their use. As always, when it comes to sustainability, the first solution to problems lies in adopting efficient and responsible consumption. In practice, it is necessary to start with a readjustment of the way in which existing resources are used. Just to keep in mind that any technological innovation - alone - will not be sufficient to solve the challenges that will affect humanity in the near future.

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