Water from the Air


SEATTLE — Water is scarce and global demand for this precious resource has skyrocketed, but a new technology seeks to tap a new source: the air. WaterGen, an Israeli company founded in 2009, has a simple mission: to use Air Water Generators (AWGs) to improve the lives of billions of people around the world.

These generators utilize the humidity found in the atmosphere to literally pull water from the air. The applications for AWG technology range from disaster relief to military operations. These units are found in hospitals, schools, shopping malls, residences, defense facilities, tactical vehicles and arid locations across the globe.

Similar to other AWG companies, such as Skysource, EcoloBlue and Island Sky Corp., WaterGen offers a possible solution to a problem millions of people battle with daily: water scarcity. Its residential, commercial and defense devices utilize a patented GENius module to deliver fresh water from the air to users.

WaterGen’s portable Civilian Spring lightweight solar unit provides 31.7 gallons of safe drinking water per hour (or 317 gallons per day). The company also offers a portable military ground force Spring unit which weighs 26.4 pounds. It operates on a rechargeable DC battery and produces 58 to 63 gallons per charge.

To remove pesticides and pollutants, the purification system utilizes a multi-stage reverse osmosis filtration process. It is sensitive enough to remove contaminants and has a built-in safeguard to shut down the unit if the “water from the air” quality is compromised.

A residential unit known as GENNY is small enough for a home or office. It produces 3.9 to 5.2 gallons of fresh water per day and consumes 250 watts.

At $18,000, a medium Gen-350G unit can be loaded onto a vehicle and rapidly deployed to remote locations. Although it requires 5.8 kilowatts of electricity, a single unit can produce 118.8 gallons of fresh water per day.

Lastly, WaterGen’s Large-Scale $30,000 unit uses 45 kilowatts of electricity and produces 1,585 gallons of fresh water from the air in one day. It is designed to be used in tandem with other units; especially on rooftops.

The company recently entered into an agreement to build a factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. On March 23, the company signed an agreement to expand the AWG market within the capital. Global production is expected to begin on schedule.

The Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) market is expected to grow by more than 30 percent from 2016 to 2024 and reach $9.31 billion in 2022. In 2015, the residential sector of the market was worth more than $13 million.

Africa, China, Indonesia, the Middle East, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany and even the U.S. are expected drive the growth of this market as new government policies emerge to provide people with safe, accessible and clean water. For example, in 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a cooperative techno-economic agreement with Israel which included WaterGen’s technology.

The high costs incurred in the designs of these systems, as well as the energy demands, limit availability. Today, the main barriers for manufacturers remain the same: reduce energy expenditures, cut costs and minimize filter fouling. Transnational agreements, such as the one signed by Gov. Brown, promote knowledge-sharing activities which promote data-driven solutions.

The Crisis

Many international resolutions and agreements recognize the right to sanitation and safe drinking water; as the U.N. suggests, it is “integral to the realization of other human rights.”

Currently, the U.N. Decade Program on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC) estimates 663 million people do not have access to ‘improved water sources’ – defined as sources which are devoid of animal and fecal contamination. Moreover, the UNICEF / WHO Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) estimates nearly 1.8 billion people do not have access to safe water in any capacity.

Demand for water has increased for many reasons: environmental degradation, migration, climate change, consumption patterns, and infrastructure development. According to the U.N., the world population may exceed nine billion by 2050, driving food, water and agricultural demands to unprecedented levels.

Officials in the U.S. Government and U.N. agree that water scarcity contributes to regional instability and public health crises. AWG units offer a safe and reliable way to reduce tensions over water resources; a solution which has serious implications. For example, the State Department concurs with the U.N. and WHO that individuals who are unable to access fresh, clean water are at a greater risk for dysentery, typhoid, cholera and trachoma.

The Future

Significant investments in education, water-related jobs, agricultural infrastructures, innovative technologies, wastewater management programs, and renewable energies may alleviate water scarcity issues. Proactive policies governed by sound regulatory bodies which address improvements in the security, affordability, accessibility, usage and safety of water resources are also needed.

Furthermore, there are a number of water research technologies that companies should pursue over the next few decades: drip irrigation improvements, drought-resistant crops, portable AWG filtration units, robust hydrological models, standardized water table research methodologies and nanotechnology (e.g. membranes).

With more investment in research and development, new technologies and upgraded AWG units may become more widespread in water scarce regions. This technology could make it possible to offset some of the impending regional challenges of water scarcity using “water from the air” technology.

JG Federman

Photo: Flickr


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