Monday, November 24, 2008

Endless water supplies from ElementFour's WaterMill product

An unrecognized looming crisis is the availability of fresh clean water. Water supply systems are overloaded delivering water to current populations, and in many countries the water simply is not safe. And of course our ancestors also had to deal with unsafe water supplies, it was modern water treatment with all its chemicals that enabled us to have safe clean water available just by twisting the water tap.

In any case ElementFour has developed something cool. The WaterMill is a gadget that draws water directly out of the air. As they say: "The atmosphere contains 4 to 25 grams of water vapor per cubic meter, while the WaterMill can change 10% to 40% of that to liquid. Water vapor is constantly replenished by Earth's natural cycle, so extracting water from the air can continue indefinitely without impacting local ecosystems."

Their current product is meant for home use. It mounts to the outside of a home, and provides up to 13 quarts per day of water. For the future they claim the technology can scale up to larger scale use such as irrigation systems, disaster relief, bottled water production, etc. Oooh... an obvious brand name for a future bottled water company: AirWater ..

Uh... trying that domain name led me to a competitive product: Xziex Atmospheric Water Generator

Both of these companies have a message: One sixth of the worlds population does not have access to clean water, and this kind of product can reduce that number

Maybe so but only if the price is low enough for an indigenous poor person in a primitive rural place can afford to pay for the gadget. The WaterMill is not yet available for purchase, but the XZIEX unit is available right now for $2500. Eek. That price is affordable only by the rich in modern societies where there already is clean water (generally). Perhaps this unit could be popular in India where there are rich people and the water system isn't so clean.

They present an idea that the water in the atmosphere is naturally replenished by the natural ecosystem. This is true, the water in the atmosphere is what we call humidity. Humidity is added from water evaporation from lakes and streams, humidity becomes clouds, and humidity becomes rain. This is the natural ecosystem that ends up producing the fresh water we draw from lakes and rivers.

A question comes to mind is if a gadget like this were to become widespread what disturbance does it make to the natural ecosystem?

The atmosphere already produces the water we drink, through natural means the atmosphere produces rain which produces lakes and rivers. It behooves us to make the best use of that resource, of course. The question I'm pondering is about deploying gadgets that also draw water out of the atmosphere, in addition to the water the ecosystem naturally draws out of the atmosphere. The natural ecosystem produces from the atmosphere the water that feeds lakes and rivers, so gadgets which also produces water from the atmosphere draws water from the same source as what feeds the rivers and lakes.

Of course if there are only a few of these units in use there's nothing to worry about. What if these companies are successful and they deploy billions of these units, and deploy large scale units?

An article in the Gaurdian discusses the WaterMill with statements like ... The demand for water is off the chart. People are looking for freedom from water distribution systems that are shaky and increasingly unreliable. Yeah, there's a big business opportunity here to provide water outside the normal water distribution systems. And there are many places in the world which lack good normal water distribution systems.

Another point: For the environmentally conscious consumer, the WaterMill has an obvious appeal. Bottled water is an ecological catastrophe. In the US alone, about 30bn litres of bottled water is consumed every year at a cost of about $11bn (£7.4bn). Yeah, bottled water is a crazy product especially in countries where adequate clean safe water is available at every tap. And to think of the oil being used to produced those bottles...

There are other methods through this madness.

We can make better use of the water supply we already have. Rather than use the water once and pour it down the drain, what about greywater systems? A grey water system diverts water from being poured down the drain and uses it for irrigation. There are known safe methods and regulations about the use of grey-water.

Direct collection of rainwater is simple in many places and again can be used for many purposes. Rainwater is usually safe clean water, and can certainly obviously be used for irrigation.

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