Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

The Water-Out-of-Thin-Air Device That Won $1.5 Million Dollars

Jun 14, 2019 09:05 AM EDT


Two California designers have won a 1.5 million dollar prize after building a shipping container that can harvest water from air. David Hertz and Rich Groden were named the winners of the Water Abundance XPrize for their innovative creation, which can produce enough water to satisfy the needs of 100 people.

The competition, which began in 2016, asked designers to build a device that could extract at least 2,000 liters of water a day from the atmosphere while only using clean energy and costing no more than two cents a liter. Nearly 100 teams entered the challenge, which was eventually whittled down to two finalists. Hertz and Groden's team, called Skysource/Skywater Alliance, won the prize because their invention "demonstrated the greatest ability to create decentralized access to water," per a press release.

So how exactly does it work? Their creation is called "WeDew," an abbreviation for wood-to-energy deployed water system. The system is really a combination of two existing devices. The first is Skywater, a generator co-created by Groden that imitates the way clouds are formed. Skywater cools warm air and forms drops of condensation that are stored in a tank and can later be tapped as pure drinking water.

The second part of the WeDew is a biomass gasifier that provides the energy needed to complete the process. The gasifier takes inorganic material, like wood chips or coconut shells, and vaporizes them to produce heat and humidity, an ideal environment for the water-gathering device operate efficiently.

"It's a carbon-negative technology," Hertz explained, "I think the future of technologies is going to be moving to this restorative, regenerative model that actually helps to repair the damage we've done." As required, the final winning design can produce at least 2,000 liters of water per day, enough to meet 100 people's daily needs.

Though Hertz and Groden took home the grand prize, they weren't the only contest participants to come up with an innovative design. The runners-up, Hawaii-based JMCC WING, received 150,000 dollars for a wind-energy system that also extracts water from the atmosphere.

Both designs have important environmental implications, particularly when it comes to global access to water. According to a 2017 report from UNICEF, approximately 2.1 billion people around the world do not have immediate access to clean drinking water.

In an effort to help combat this crisis, Hertz and Groden are already working on figuring out how to implement their technology around the world. The two reportedly plan to team up with various nonprofit organizations to plan how to effectively utilize their system in areas of need, including cities hit by natural disasters, as Hertz stated, "One could imagine these shipping containers being positioned in a state of readiness throughout the world to be able to respond to disasters for both energy and water."

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