Making Water

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Air and water — without these two elements life cannot exist, and concerns are continuously being raised regarding purity and availability of both. Growing up I never dreamed that people would be buying their water, and now it is becoming the norm.

Current water suppliers are failing to meet the worldwide demand. When water quantities become low, water quality also suffers. The World Bank estimates that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, resulting in the deaths of 3.6 million people annually. If the present water use and contamination continue at today’s rate, in another 25 years the world will be using 90 percent of the available fresh water supply. Over 60,000 chemicals may be in a public water supply at one time, with only 91 currently being regulated.

These numbers are staggering and clearly suggest that there needs to be a better way to supply pure water in sufficient quantities. Perhaps there is. Atmospheric water generators are being marketed today. Simply put, they are devices that turn the humidity in the air into clean, pure drinking water. Basically, these machines are capable of providing an unlimited water supply since there is 12 quadrillion liters of water in the atmosphere at any given time. These units come in various sizes and the only limitation to how much water they can produce is each model’s size and capacity.

If there is the right mix of humidity, temperature, and altitude an atmospheric water generator (AWG) takes advantage of the natural process of condensation through dehumidification. There are two basic methods for how these devices work.

Most commercial models work on the same principle as air conditioners and dehumidifiers, although they do not produce cool air. The process starts with warm air gradually being turned to cold. This involves moving a compressed refrigerant throughout the machine. Outside air is pulled in and condensation from the air is left on coils that line the generator interior. This condensation is then drawn into a holding tank where it is filtered for impurities and then stored. It is held there until needed and can stay in this holding tank for extended periods of time because the machine refilters every so often to keep the water pure. This type of machine is especially valuable in parts of the world where people do not have access to clean water.

The less common type of atmospheric water generators uses chemistry to perform its function by making use of chemical salts to absorb the air’s moisture. As the moisture bearing salt is heated and melted, the moisture rises as the melting occurs. As it does, steam is collected into holding tanks for filtration and storage. This type of AWG is most often used by the military or big business because the units tend to be expensive.

The bottom line for these devices is that the rate at which water can be produced depends on relative humidity, ambient air temperature, and size of the compressor. Atmospheric water generators become more effective as relative humidity and air temperature increase. As a general rule, cooling condensation AWGs (those most likely found in homes) do not work efficiently when the temperature falls below 65 degrees Fahrenheit or the relative humidity drops below 30 percent. They run optimally any time the humidity is 35 percent or higher.

Thus, the cost-effectiveness of an AWG depends on the capacity of the machine, local humidity, temperature conditions, and the cost to power the unit. For home residential use, AWG wattage ranks anywhere from 300 watts to 1200 watts depending on the size of the device and its generation capacity. This energy usage is on the same scale as a PC desktop computer system or a home entertainment system with a plasma TV and Xbox. When you do a cost analysis to decide if the energy usage is worth having a system, usually it boils down to being less expensive than buying bottled water but significantly more expensive than tap water with a filtration system.

Another consideration is whether or not an atmospheric water generator makes enough water for a household’s needs. For drinking and cooking under ideal conditions, a unit can often provide sufficient water to meet these needs. However, most models cannot sustain an entire household’s use. Of course, the two variables to be considered here are how much your household uses per day and how large of model you need, which in turn dictates how much you want to invest in one.

As with anything else, units range from the low end of the spectrum to the high end. Units can produce anywhere from 5 gallons to 3,000 gallons of water per day. Some smaller units that require no additional energy input can produce 11 gallons of water per day and cost around $135. These would be fine to supplement the existing water supply. Much larger solar powered units use less energy in the long run than those that run solely on electricity, but the upfront cost is considerably higher. Some solar units can produce between 40 and 100 gallons per day, but they require solar thermal and electrical inputs. These units sell for roughly $9,000. The advantage to one of these units is that it can be completely solar powered or solar combined with grid power.

Several models also come with perks such as options for hooking into the tap so that once the water in the holding tank is used up, the owner can still use the filtration system for their tap water. Some even have separate tanks so that hot and cold water are available on demand.

So, is an atmospheric water generator right for you? There are a lot of variables that need to be carefully weighed. Just as a power generator can provide freedom from depending entirely on the grid for electricity or during in power outages, atmospheric water generators can provide peace of mind that you will always have a water supply. As the water crisis becomes more real with droughts, pollution, depleted snow packs, and other issues shortening our fresh water supplies, these devices provide viable options to ensuring a continuous water supply.

Whether they are energy and cost-effective for your personal use is something each household must weigh for themselves. The answer to this depends on your reason for supplementing your existing water supply and how the cost weighs into the matter.

The one distinct advantage is that the water collected in this manner is pure and needs no reverse osmosis or additional filtering. It eliminates the hazards caused by viruses, bacteria, pesticides, and heavy metals. Basically, it is like drinking rain water. Unlike distilled water, it won’t leach your body with chemicals.

Although they are not new on the horizon, many people have not heard of atmospheric water generators, myself included until recently. Like any other invention though, models are being improved upon every day. As more municipal water supplies are found to have some kind of contamination, such as in Flint, Michigan, and as more chemicals are leached into our ground water, these units will provide a very viable source for clean water — the life blood that every organism needs to live.

Photo by Adobe Stock/gertrudda

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