Making cheap water from thin air

ground-w-t-picWe had already covered LifeStraw, a ground-breaking invention that filters up to a thousand litres of contaminated water, used by millions around the world since 2005. But what if you could make gallons of drinking water from thin air for as little as eight cents a gallon?

Meet the Atmospheric Water Generation Unit (aka GEN-G), a water generator that can produce up to 210 gallons (approximately 800 litres) of purified drinking water. As impressive as making water from the air sounds, that isn’t the real breakthrough. The news is that Water-Gen, the Israeli-based startup behind the invention, claims to do it far more efficiently than others.

The portable unit captures atmospheric humidity and uses its “GENius” heat exchanger to cool the air and condense water vapour. “It looks simple, because air conditioning is extracting water from air. But the issue is to do it very efficiently, to produce as much water as you can per kilowatt of power consumed,” Co-CEO Arye Kohavi told CNN. The easily transferable technology was initially developed for the Israel Defense Forces, but Water-Gen is already selling to militaries in seven countries, including the US and India. 

The obvious thought that comes to mind is how handy this would be for developing countries, right? (and that we may be fine if we run out of water after all, I guess) But I personally don’t see how, since prices for the smaller model start at $18,000, and at $30,000 for the larger one. In other words, while making clean water with this generator is a bargain, the technology itself is clearly not. So unless Water-Gen makes some kind of generous deal to get these shipped to water-scarce regions, GEN-G is not that much of a life saver. However, there may be something in the works as Kohavi also said the future of the company’s products is in civilian uses.

Both the award-winning LifeStraw and GEN-G are pretty revolutionary, but the problem with such life-saving creations often lies in the complexity of making them accessible to those in real need. The World Health Organisation estimates that 780 million people still don’t have access to potable water, and that 3.4 million die every year thanks to water-borne diseases. 

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