Initially this concept was developed to address global shortages in clean drinking water, but it has become a more consumer-friendly product over time. It appears to be a futuristic air conditioner unit, but it is capable of condensing, filtering and sterilizing water for less than 3 cents per quart.
Turning Air Into Water
According to a recent article published by NBC News ("Turning Air into Water? Gadget Does Just That"), the new Watermill device doesn't come cheap, nor is it the first machine of its kind to enter this fast-growing field. However, by targeting environmentally-friendly households with an alternative to bottled water, the manufacturer (Kelowna) is hoping to make it a must-have gadget.
In order for the Watermill to be energy efficient it must first "adapt" to its new environment. For example, if you place it in a rainforest it will sample the air every three minutes and adapt to its new climate accordingly. The same process will occur if it is placed in a desert.
Features of the Watermill
Among its unique features, the Watermill unit includes an activated carbon filter that alerts the owner when it needs to be changed. Also, the machine keeps its condensation chamber just below the dew point, where the air becomes so saturated with water vapor that it begins to condense. This is critical to the process because if the temperature of the chamber is just three degrees higher than the dew point it wouldn't produce any water, and if it fell below the dew point the unit would just be wasting energy.
Since microbes are a big concern in any water cooler or tank, changing the filter on time is very important. This unit does more than alert you when it's time to replace the filter; it will actually shut itself down if you don't. By doing this, it prevents the water vapor from becoming contaminated.
Another way the unit prevents contamination is within the condensation changer. A reflective wall is placed around the condensation coil and during the process a UV light bounces off this wall, effectively sterilizing the front and back sides of the coil.
The company behind the Watermill is Element Four, but other companies have begun producing upright atmospheric water generators that are scaled for indoor use. The most efficient models on the market are outdoor units that are capable of producing hundreds – or even thousands – of gallons of water per day.
Air is a hidden reservoir of water
Some critics have asked if taking water from the atmosphere represents a threat to the ecosystem, but that is not a concern. The truth is that most environments around the world have plenty of available water vapor that could be converted into liquid water. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the volume of excess water in the atmosphere is so great that if it was poured out into a lake its volume would be greater than that of Lake Superior.
Water vapor is continuously replenished through the earth's water cycle, so humidity could be removed from the air indefinitely without affecting local ecosystems. Depending on the relative humidity, the Watermill can convert between ten and 40 percent of the water vapor found in the air into liquid water.
An alternative for fresh drinking water?
A spokesperson for the American Water Works Association (AWWA) said they were unable to independently evaluate the specific claims made by atmospheric water generators, but the organization believes that looming water shortages must be addressed through technical innovation. Not only will atmospheric water generators become important in aiding Third World countries, they will make quality drinking water available quickly after a natural disaster.
Despite continuous improvements to the technology, even the most efficient units are unable to make drinking water that is less expensive than tap water. Based on the AWWA's 2006 survey of utilities throughout the United States, the rate for water made by atmospheric generators is still 3 to 5 time more costly than water that comes from local water supplies.
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