Making Drinking Water Out Of Thin Air
Back in the 70s the movie Star Wars took the world by storm. The hero, Luke Skywalker, began his epic adventure as a farm boy on a farm that harvested moisture from the air with machines George Lucas named "moisture vaporators." At that time it was complete fiction, but as with so much science fiction, these things become reality. Star Trek communicators led to the development of the cell phone. Now there is a billboard in the desert outside of Lima, Peru that absorbs humidity from the air and turns it into potable water for the neighborhood.
Lima is the second largest world capital set in a desert -- it is located in the coastal Atacama Desert. The annual rainfall in the area is about half an inch a year. On the other hand the relative humidity of the area is extremely high -- around 98%. This leaves some portions of the population there with little water and even less that is truly clean enough to be healthy. The area has traditionally relied upon run-off and glacial melt from the Andes, both of which are on the decline due to global warming and climate change.
Around 2.2 million people worldwide die annually from drinking water contaminated with a wide variety of pollutants. Around 1 million people in the Lima area have no running water at all. For this metropolitan area of 7 million people clean water is a vital issue.
Researchers at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima and advertising agency Mayo Peru DraftFCB joined forces to create the billboard that uses a special panel to draw moisture from the atmosphere.
The billboard was erected in the village of Bujama just to the south of Lima. The people there had no access to clean water. While the ocean is near, desalination to make the water potable is an expensive process. Not everyone in need of clean water in the world is near the ocean. Hopefully this concept, which does not need to come in the form of a billboard, will be able to be used widely and more cost effectively.
The collected water moves through a five stage process which includes reverse osmosis to purify the water. It produces around 96 liters of clean water a day. The water is stored in a central holding tank for use at the spigot at the base of the billboard. The university hopes that this will lead to more billboards or other designs to be placed throughout the city and the surrounding villages to produce plenty of clean water for everyone.
The reason that the current device is in the shape of a billboard is that it is also designed to get more young people interested in going into engineering as a profession -- one that can change Peru, and possibly the world.