More musings---see previous blog post. This time I was reading a recent issue of Eos (August 2021), published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). One article (Climate Clues from One of the Rainiest Places on Earth, page 11, by A. J. Wight) contained a wonderful quote. "In the atmosphere, we are all connected," and the [low-level jet stream] "is part of the engine that redistributes the heat from the tropics to higher latitudes." So stated John Mejia, associate professor of climatology at Nevada's Desert Research Institute. The water-from-air industry's main resource is the water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour is transported great distances between regions on Earth by the global atmospheric circulation processes. We are all connected in seeking to utilize this water resource residing in our "atmospheric commons". Atmospheric water vapour is, of course, just one part of the water cycle, one of the many essential planetary cycles of natural materials.
Recently, I was catching up on my reading. An article's title caught my attention---Redirect military budgets to climate and pandemics (Nature, V 584, 27 August 2020, 521-523)---I know, I know, this article was a year old---my catch-up pile is rather high! The author was Denise Garcia, associate professor of political science and international affairs at Northeastern University, Boston, MA. She is also a vice-chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and a member of the International Panel for the Regulation of Autonomous Weapons. Garcia's article is worth reading in its entirety. But, what spoke to me was her list of four priorities, one of which is relevant directly to the water-from-air industry. The four priorities are: stop new arms races, abide by the Arms Trade Treaty, implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and invest in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, agreed to in 2015). SDG 6 is Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Atmoswater Research, in its own low-key way---evidenced by the content of the Atmoswater website and list of projects done for clients over the years---is trying to contribute to SDG 6. In so doing, we can claim to be part of the four priorities------helping, as Garcia said, "...steer the world towards a safer course." I like to be inspired by this role, especially when the going gets tough, as it so often does.
Registration is now open for the "Atmospheric Water, Part 3" Webinar on November 17. The registration page is at http://bit.ly/SGC-Nov17
Participants at this well-attended webinar had lots of questions---too numerous to answer during the Q & A period at the end of the webinar. So the three panelists were asked to reply to a set of questions---the answers were sent recently to the registered attendees. Here are my answers to the set of eight questions assigned to me. They cover a variety of topics. I hope you find the answers interesting and useful.
Water vapor, the gas phase of water, diffuses along pressure gradients to zones of lower water vapor pressure. If a lot of water vapor was condensed into liquid water in a specific region such as a city, water vapor from outside the region would flow in immediately. No net loss of atmospheric water vapor density would be observed in the city.
Water consumed for domestic water requirements does not exit from the water cycle. Within a day or so the liquid water that is used or temporarily with-held from the water cycle would be returned to the environment by evaporating into atmospheric water vapor.
On a clearly bounded terrestrial surface such as a tropical island, atmospheric water vapor processing systems would increase slightly the annual precipitation. Let us say a large-scale AWG array is installed on an island such as Grand Turk (Turks & Caicos Islands). The island has a surface area of 18 square kilometers (1,800 ha). The AWG array produces water from the air at a rate of 75,335 cubic meters annually. This is equivalent to a rainfall of 7,533 mm over one hectare (10,000 square meters). The average annual precipitation of Grand Turk is 604 mm. This value would be enhanced by [7,533 mm/ha/1,800 ha] = 4 mm (or 0.7% annually, an amount less than the natural variability from year to year. The annual total precipitation in the year 2000, for example, was 704 mm.
To reinforce the fact that long-term human direct impact on atmospheric water is negligible, note that dehumidifiers and air-conditioners dripping condensate have been increasingly used since the 1950s. I used NOAA global specific humidity data (measured in grams of water per kilogram of air) and subtracted the earlier 30-year 1951 to 1980 annual field from the more recent 39-year 1981 to 2019 field. The resulting map showed several pools of higher specific humidity (+2 g/kg). These are likely related to climate change. Drying of about -2 g/kg is noticeable over the Sahara and Gobi deserts---more likely to be related to climate change than use of HVAC equipment. Over most of Earth specific humidity has been remarkably stable (+/-1 g/kg) for the past seven decades. By the way, I posted the map in the Atmoswater Research blog. Indirect environmental impacts are more likely. These will be related to the materials used in manufacturing AWGs, product life cycle aspects, and so on. Also, AWGs will enable humans to expand their footprint which could increase population density in a region, lead to increased sewage and waste disposal challenges, and increase energy use.
These analyses indicate widespread global atmospheric water use will not noticeably affect the world climate.
More conventional sources of water have these electrical energy costs:
- Surface water, public supply: 0.37 kWh/cubic meter (Young, 2014)
- Groundwater, public supply: 0.48 kWh/cubic meter (Young, 2014)
- Tap water, 0.46 kWh/cubic meter (Gleick & Cooley, 2009)
- Municipal water (S California): 3 kWh/cubic meter (Gleick & Cooley, 2009)
- Seawater Desalination (reverse osmosis): 2.5 to 7 kWh/cubic meter (Gleick & Cooley, 2009)
- Seawater Desalination (reverse osmosis): 2 kWh/cubic meter (Elimelech & Phillip, 2011, p. S1)
- Bottled Water: 519 to 945 kWh/cubic meter [Gleick & Cooley, 2009; thermal energy units were converted to electrical energy units (3:1) to derive these values]
It was interesting to discover that AWGs used in tropical climates are competitive with bottled water. Keep in mind the apparently cheaper conventional sources may not even be available in some water scarce regions. The desalination costs do not include the apparently difficult to monetize costs of harming local ecosystems with brine disposal.
Elimelch, M. & Phillip, W. A. (2011) Supporting Online Material for The Future of Seawater Desalination: Energy, Technology, and the Environment. Science 333, 712-717.
Gleick, P. H. & Cooley, H. S. (2009). Energy implications of bottled water. Environ. Res. Lett. 4 (2009) 014009 (6pp).
Young, R. (2014). Watts in a Drop of Water: Savings at the Water-Energy Nexus. An American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) White Paper. Retrieved from https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/watts-in-drops.pdf
- AWG rated for 5 gal/day: $300/gal (residential quality)
- AWG rated for 10 gal/day: $420/gal (balance of list is commercial/industrial quality)
- AWG rated for 40 gal/day: $178/gal
- AWG rated for 140 gal/day: $121/gal
- AWG rated for 800 gal/day: $98/gal
- AWG rated for 1800 gal/day: $82/gal
The energy cost of water produced by a desiccant AWG was estimated two ways (note that kilowatt is a unit of power---the energy unit is kilowatt x hours, kWh, which is power acting over a period of time):
a. Specifications for a line of industrial rotary desiccant dehumidifiers (using electrical energy) manufactured by Hangzhou Peritech Dehumidifying Equipment Co., Ltd. (http://www.desiccantwheeldehumidifier.com/sale-2082217-industrial-rotary-desiccant-dehumidifier-silica-gel-economical-dehumidifier.html). Their 14.4 L/day model produces water using 2.8 kWh/L (10.6 kWh/US gal or 10,600 kWh per 1000 US gal). Their 1,102 L/day model produces water using 1.3 kWh/L (4.9 kWh/US gal or 4,900 kWh per 1000 US gal).
b. Using information in the SOURCE Global (formerly Zero Mass Water) Patent Application US 2018/0043295 A1. The document includes an example of operation in Amman, Jordan at 14:00 on a July day. Airflow is 90 cfm. Relative humidity is 30%. A solar thermal panel with surface area 1.5 square meters provides 700 W (at 50% efficiency) to heat the desiccant to release captured water at the rate of 0.3 L/h. This information can be interpreted three different ways because international consensus is lacking on comparing different energy sources (e.g., solar thermal versus electricity; read more at the American Physical Society Site https://www.aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/energy/units.cfm). We need to make this comparison because the Peritech dehumidifiers and all chilled-coil AWGs are energized by electricity.
i. Thermal energy = electrical energy cost of water = (700 W x 1 h)/0.3 L = 2.33 kWh/L; efficiency of solar thermal assumed to be 100% as per OECD/IEA publication guidelines
ii. Equivalent electrical energy cost = 0.76 kWh/L; efficiency of solar thermal assumed to be 33% as per DOE/EIA (USA) publication guidelines
iii. Equivalent electrical energy cost = 1.17 kWh/L; efficiency of solar thermal assumed to be 50% as stated in the patent application
The range of energy costs for the SOURCE Global patent application example is 2.8 kWh/US gal (2,800 kWh per 1000 US gal) to 8.7 kWh/US gal (8,700 kWh per 1000 US gal).
Has widespread use of dehumidifiers and air-conditioners dripping condensate affected in the long-term the amount and geographical distribution of water vapour in the atmosphere? An analysis using data available from NOAA suggests not. The figure above shows the difference field of specific humidity resulting from subtracting the composite means (Jan to Dec) for the 30 year period 1951 to 1980 from the 39 year period 1981 to 2019, Several pools of higher specific humidity +2 g/kg are noticeable. These are likely related to climate change. Drying of about -2 g/kg is noticeable over the Sahara and Gobi deserts---more likely to be related to climate change than use of HVAC equipment. Overall, specific humidity has been remarkably stable (+/-1 g/kg) over the past seven decades.
Reference: NCEP Reanalysis Derived data provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSL, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their Web site at https://psl.noaa.gov/
Please join us for this webinar by registering at http://bit.ly/SGC-Oct20 where you will find additional information.
Here are some product design notes applicable to atmospheric water generator products. The notes are based on an interview with Mitch Maiman, Intelligent Product Solutions by William G. Wong of Electronic Design magazine (July 26, 2020).
Common design mistakes to avoid
Embrace smart products
This quotation defines the fundamental market for the water-from-air industry.
"The pandemic has exposed huge inequalities in water security, with more than 2 billion people, half of schools, and one-quarter of health-care facilities lacking a basic water or sanitation service."---as stated by 16 co-signatories in Correspondence published in Nature 583, 360 (2020).
But, it is challenging to develop business models to address these markets in which the individual members seldom can afford innovations. Although technical water-from-air advancements remain important to work on, the need for business model inventiveness is likely to be even more necessary.
Journalist Verity Ratcliffe of Bloomberg wrote an interesting article about Zero Mass Water's installation supplying water-from-air to a bottled water plant in Dubai, UAE.
For technical details, see this page: https://www.atmoswater.com/case-studies-zero-mass-water-inc.html
This is an interesting article about the drinking-water-from-air industry. It also includes a section on fog harvesting. Atmoswater Research got a nice mention!
Water-from-air systems often use ultraviolet light means to sanitize the incoming air, the stored water, and the water as it is being dispensed. This 4-page fact sheet, by the nonprofit IUVA, is useful knowledge for the water-from-air industry community as it copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, I was invited to discuss some aspects of water-from-air technologies as posts (each about a one minute read) in the GWW Connect Network. I posted the seventh and final article today. Here are links to the posts.
This article is a good overview of the COVID-19 virus in relation to systems processing drinking water and wastewater. Water-from-air machines (atmospheric water generators, AWGs) are, of course, small-scale drinking water systems. Even though the drinking water within the system may be safe, spigot handles and machine surfaces could be contaminated by viruses and bacteria. Machine users should wash their hands before operating the machine. Machine surfaces, spigots, and spigot handles should be sanitized frequently.
For the air-side of water-from-air systems, relevant information is provided at ASHRAE Resources Available to Address COVID-19 Concerns.
For the water-side of water-from-air systems there are two good sources of information:
This newly published article, by water industry experts Mary Conley Eggert and Graham Symmonds, is worthwhile reading for current perspectives about the role of water-from-air technologies in drinking water supply infrastructures.
The Water-from-Air Industry is actively growing! This chart is from the data table below tabulating the founding years for Water-from-Air companies [suppliers of Atmospheric Water Generators (AWGs)]. Companies that failed between 1990 and the present are not included. Only those companies with active websites as of today are included. Founding year information is from the company websites or the LinkedIn profiles of the companies or their founders. The two pre-1990 companies were not set up initially as water-from-air equipment suppliers. Companies started in the 2016–2017 peak years were not apparently a direct response to the Water Abundance XPrize competition which ran during 2016–2018. Founding years were not available for 11 of the 73 companies listed below. The last 10 years saw the formation of 37 firms—half of the existing companies. There has been no apparent merger and acquisition activity. Dozens of companies are marketing actively their AWGs. At least two or three dozen units are operating worldwide (see Case Studies page). According to O'Callaghan and others (2018) when "at least 3 companies actively offer versions of the technology; [with] more than 12 full-scale units in operation" this is one signal the industry is in the "Early and Late Majority" stage which can typically last 12 to 16 years. Two other signals stated by O'Callaghan and colleagues are that "Consulting engineers now specify the technology..." and "Efficiencies [are] gained in engineering design and process optimization."
Reference: O'Callaghan, P. and others (2018). Development and Application of a Model to Study Water Technology Adoption. Water Environment Research, June 2018, 563–574.
This YouTube video by the Dutch foundation, Happy With Water Foundation, reviews several atmospheric water vapour processing methods and then states that an absorption cooling method using solar energy and vacuum tubes with heat pipes reduces the energy cost of water making it relatively more affordable and practical compared to most other options.
Field trial of the AKVOS water-from-air system in January 2018 on Sal Island, Cabo Verde. The water production module is on the left and the atmospheric water vapour absorption module is on the right. Water vapour in the air is aborbed by liquid glycerol flowing on the white fabric in the metal framework. The hydrated glycerol is transferred to the water production module. Solar heat is used to evaporate water out of the glycerol. The water vapour condenses into liquid water on the bottom inside surface of the module. Photo by Roland Wahlgren.
For some time I have wanted to highlight this interesting water-from-air system. The photo shows a prototype system using glycerol as the liquid desiccant to absorb water vapour from the air on Sal Island in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean (17°N, 23°W). The prototype was designed and built by Dr. Pavel Lehky who holds United States Patent 9,200,434 B2 for the system. The field trials were done during Team AKVOS's participation in the Water Abundance XPRIZE competition. I was a member of the team. During a typical night at the site, the absorption module with its 9 square metres of surface area absorbed over 4 L of water. The 0.25 sq. m. production module was able to recover about 0.3 L of this during a typical day. So, one of the lessons from the trial was the water production module area has to be better matched to the capacity of the absorption module. Improving the efficiency of the water production module is also of benefit—this is a focus of ongoing design improvements. Find out more about Stiftung Sanakvo (Team AKVOS) at their website. Sanakvo also has a video on YouTube with an explanation of the system and showing the prototype operating during the field trial.
Visit the new Case Studies page to learn about practical applications of water-from-air systems!
Drinking-water Industry Organizations Links is a new page on the Atmoswater Research website. I hope people in the industry find it to be useful. Please tell me if there are other industry organizations that should be listed on this page. Thanks!
Do atmospheric water generators—producing water with low total dissolved solids (TDS)—need to incorporate a mineralization feature into their design? Reading this article by the Water Quality Association gives you the knowledge to make an informed choice or to have a useful discussion about this topic.
The Water Quality Association has a useful knowledge-base, much of it relevant to water-from-air systems, available on its Technical Fact Sheets page.
Patricia Oliver, a librarian in St. Croix, phoned me. Her library used an atmospheric water generator (AWG) and it worked very well year-round---climate conditions are ideal for operating water-from-air systems. Ms Oliver believes AWGs are much needed in St. Croix. The problem is that local firms are wary of importing machines because there are limited options for servicing the machines. If you, as a water-from-air systems supplier, would like to enter into a dialog with Ms Oliver about contributing to solutions for the drinking water supply challenges in St. Croix, please ask me for her contact details. Thank you!
The University of California, Berkley research group led by Omar M. Yaghi published recently an article in ACS Central Science describing how they built and tested a metal-organic framework water harvester prototype. The system produced fresh water at the rate of 0.7 L/day in the Mojave Desert during a 3-day trial (October 17–20, 2018). During this period the ambient air dew-point was less than 5 °C for 85% of the time.
#WaterfromAir Industry News: Jeff Szur, formerly VP of Drinkable Air, starts The Trident Water Company
You can read the update by Jeff Szur at this link: https://mailchi.mp/5b1d9c7272fb/my-new-venture?fbclid=IwAR3ZLsQGIUKDRT3lPfATLn4ATO2Shjfjs1QKXEus_9L5rZRl2N1cUL0FBt0
I have been researching and developing drinking-water-from-air technologies since 1984. As a physical geographer, I strive to contribute an accurate, scientific point-of-view to the field.