Americans take tap water for granted. We tend to assume we can have all the potable water we want with the twist of a tap. But with rising temperatures and population growth depleting freshwater sources faster than they’re being replenished, experts say we may no longer be able to depend upon a seemingly endless stream of water piped in from reservoirs. Compounding that problem is the looming failure of the nation’s outdated water mains — a problem some wags call “pipeageddon.”
Now researchers across the country are working on a solution. They’re developing low-cost, high-tech devices that can suck drinking water straight from the air.
One of the nascent technologies, under development at the University of Texas, is called an atmospheric water generator, or AWG. It uses a special refrigerator to condense water vapor from the air, filtering it, and then depositing it into a collector for use. It’s best suited for humid climates.
Another approach, being developed at MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, uses special crystals that soak up atmospheric water vapor like a sponge. This so-called “water harvester” seems to work in arid as well as humid climates.
These twin technologies aim to exploit the fact that Earth’s atmosphere contains not just air but nearly 13 trillion liters of fresh water. That number stays fairly constant, with rain bringing moisture to the planet’s surface and evaporation, mostly from the ocean, returning water to the air.
AUTOMATIC WATER GENERATOR
In prototype form, the AWG being developed at Texas is the size of a desktop printer. But within the next five years, the researchers hope to commercialize AWGs about a meter high and wide that would be installed in yards and on rooftops. They think it might sell for about $100.