Air-water technology goes mobile

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February 21, 2006 With around 20% of the world’s population struggling to get adequate supplies of safe drinking water, the rapid evolution of air-water technology (which extracts water from the air) could well become one of the most significant enabling technologies in the history of mankind. We’ve already awarded the invention of the century, but we believe air-water technology is close to being equally as significant as it will enable man to begin to reconsider the cultivation of vast tracts of previously inhospitable land.

Believe it or not, there are approximately 4000 cubic miles of water in the earth’s atmosphere, which accounts for why it rains, why air conditioning units extract water from the air, and how Atmospheric Water Technologies’ machinery manages to extract thousands of litres of drinkable water per day from thin air. We wrote up the technology in detail 18 months ago, but things have changed a lot in the short time since that first article.

Now the company produces an AW100i model which combines water extraction from the atmosphere with a built-in icemaker to make a unit that can be powered from a generator and produce 50 litre of ice and 50 litres of drinkable water per day. More significantly, the company has now developed a mobile version of its air-to-water machine known as the aw1000m (caution: large WMV video file).

The tandem-wheeled trailer-mounted US$48,000 aw1000m will produce over 1,000 liters of purified and filtered water daily, store it in on-board water tanks, and dispense it for drinking, washing or via two built-in shower units as part of the total water producing system/concept. The machine was developed as an all-in-one solution for the needs of the Indian army in the field and is suitable for transportation over rugged terrain and powered by a diesel generator. The machine can be fitted with an automatic plastic pouch filling machine which produces 25 plastic pouches of purified drinking water per minute for US$0.01 per 800cc pack.

Atmospheric Water Technologies, Inc. company president Michael J. Zwebner says that the company is planning to produce several more advanced and customized machines which will be offered to a International Aid organizations, such as the United Nations and the Red Cross for humanitarian work.

The development of the aw1000m is only the beginning – a 5000 litre military unit is under development with an array of ancillary systems, such as the providing there’s sufficient humidity in the environment, there’s really no limit to the amount of water that can be extracted. Indeed, in humid locations and climates, existing machines can often provide far more than their rating. The machines are rated for their literage at 67 percent humidity, but with just a slight increase to say, 70 percent humidity, the rating of the 1000 litre machine jumps to 1300 litres per day.

Large-sized air water machines can be either site located or trailer mounted allowing easy and fast transportation to any destination all over the world for immediate deployment in the case of war and/or other emergencies.

We spoke with the Australian distributor of AirWater, Brent Loebel, in preparing this article and were given some valuable insight into the development of the market both in Ausdtralia and internationally.

How does the air-water technology compare to desalination as a means of providing drinkable water?

“There’s really no comparison. If water is available, air-water can’t be as cost-effective. It’s a matter of the appropriate technology for the appropriate situation and air-water comes into its own in environments where there isn’t available water.

What’s the maximum size of the machines you can build?

Well there’s no real maximum We could build up to 20,000 litre machines if required, but it might be a better solution to have a bank of smaller machines, particularly if you’re a long way from servicing facilities. In Africa, there are some issues with getting enough trained technicians for servicing and repairs, so many sites are finding that it’s better to have four 500 litre machines than one 2000 litre machine, because if one goes down, you still have some capacity until service arrives.

Which markets have most readily accepted air-water technology?

We sent a number of machines to Sri Lanka following the Tsunami and the success of those machines has created a huge demand for more machines there. So Sri Lanka is doing well, and similarly, throughout Asia and parts of Africa where the machines were initially used for humanitarian aid purposes but once the technology was introduced, things just accelerated from there.

How much servicing is required for the machines?

Very little or none at all. We now have machines that have been running continuously, untouched for over two years, some of them without so much as a filter change.

What’s the biggest hurdle to selling the air-water machines?

Two things – market perceptions and stock. Most people when they hear about the technology are very reticent, perhaps because it seems too good to be true – free water from the air? Yeah, sure! Once we have demonstrated the technology and they have drunk the water from a machine, the fears seem to dissipate. Beyond that, it’s really supply of the product at present because we’re invariably always awaiting the next shipment.

What’s the most popular unit and why?

Without doubt it’s the SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) machine, though that’s mainly because we can get more numbers of those machines. They really sell themselves because they’re in competition with the bottled water business and are applicable anywhere you want a 25 litre machine without the overheads, storage, costs etc The electricity and costs of the SOHO machine work out to producing drinking water for between two and three cents a litre. Compare that o the logisics and costs of having bottled water delivered and it works out to between 50 and 80 cents a lite and the SOHO machines – between 2-3 cents a litre – bottled water at 70-80 cents a litre and it’s a straightforward decision. The SOHO unit costs under US$1500 delivered.

The next big seller will be the new machine with an ice-making facility – making equal amounts of water and ice. That’s bringing enquiries from all over the country – road construction, bridge construction, mines and other remote sites where it’s hot and dry and there are lots of workers. There’s no logistics required to support the machine – you wheel it into wherever the workers eat their meals and run it off a generator – no deliveries of water are required and it makes large quantities of ice and water – a no-brainer.

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