Water drops on metal background (Pic: Sherrle Thai, Flickr)
According to the World Resources Institute, global demand for water is likely to increase dramatically over the next few decades. This will be driven by rapidly growing populations which in turn will drive rapidly increasing consumption, not only of drinking water but also of water for farm irrigation and for various industrial processes. Additionally, more people will move into cities, particularly if conditions in rural and coastal areas decline because of increasing climate change. Analysis by the WRI, using climate modelling and socioeconomic scenarios, shows that extremely high water stress will become a fact of life in 33 countries around the world from 2040. Among the worst affected will be Chile, Estonia, Namibia, and Botswana.
However, in response to this looming crisis, a number of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world have been looking at solar powered devices for generating water. Prominent among such individuals is Ap Verheggen, a creative artist who is known for his highly acclaimed sculpture. Verheggen introduced SunGlacier to the world in 2011, with the aim of generating a more positive dialogue about climate change, but it’s now rapidly developed to become a source of ideas that will help people adapt to extreme heat and water stress.
SunGlacier itself is basically a solar powered structure in the shape of a leaf that produces water. It works by using the principles underlying condensation to create ice in the Sahara desert. The artwork was designed in cooperation with coolant specialists Cofely Refrigeration and was tested using a shipping container, in which Verbeggen’s manage to produce 10 cm of ice. Verbeggen believes that a lot more can be produced, from condensation, purely by using solar power, in short it isn’t even necessary to have any water present in the first place since you could simply produce it out of the moisture in the air. Speaking to the Engineer, Mr Verbeggen said that Egypt actually has the same amount of humidity as the Netherlands, which means that the projects he is developing may actually be one of the most important research programs of modern times, given the chronic water shortages now being experienced in areas such as the Middle East, and increasingly perhaps, California.
This sounds like a completely whacky idea, but Mr Verbeggen’s newest idea is a hand-held device called WaterDrop which would produce water from condensation that is also drinkable.
“If temperatures rise, the air contains more water” Verbeggen wrote on his blog. “Normally, higher temperatures also mean more sunshine. So, why not focus on harvesting water out of the air, powered only by renewable solar energy? In this way drinking water and water for agriculture become available in most dry parts of the planet.”
The idea is that these devices will use PV modules to generate solar power which would then cool the air thus generating condensation. The PV modules would also create an airflow by powering a fan. This would drive the water into a small cistern to collect it. Mr Verbeggen also thinks small rocks could be incorporated into the design in order to add minerals to the water. A replaceable carbon water filter would act as a spout.
The device is still way off from development but it would become far more viable in time as the efficiency of solar cells increases.