New Technologies Could Make Clean Water

Many people lack access to safe drinking water

Key Takeaways

  • Companies are using new technologies to make clean water. 
  • About 1 in 10 people worldwide lack access to safe water.
  • One company says it can create water from air using only renewable energy.
An adult drinking water from a water bottle after exercising.

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The earth may be 71 percent water, but there's not enough clean H20 to go around, and tech companies think they can help. 

One company, for example, is raising money to create water from air using only renewable energy. Uravu's device streams air into a chamber containing desiccants like silica which absorb the water content in the air. 

"The world is quickly running out of its freshwater supply, and by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas," Prakash Govindan, co-founder of Gradiant, a cleantech water solutions company, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Unfortunately, as water resources continue to decrease, the world's consumption of water is rapidly increasing as economic growth fuels manufacturing facilities."

Water From Air

Uravu Labs thinks it can help solve the world's water problems with air. Its prototype uses desiccant and heat from solar energy to extract liquid water. The company recently raised seed funding to put its technology into production. 

"There's a lot of discussion about 'cloud water' or companies that are making clean drinking water from the moisture in the air," Orianna Bretschger, the CEO of the renewable water company Aquacycl told Lifewire in an email interview. "These are very interesting technologies but are in the early stages."

Other climate-friendly solutions to the water problem are in the works. For example, Bretschger's own company focuses on recycling wastewater. The company says it offers the first commercially viable microbial fuel cell technology that generates direct electricity from industrial wastewater up to 1,000 times more concentrated than the typical city sewer. 

The energy-neutral system removes high levels of organic carbon, reducing the load on utilities and saving up to 90% GHG emissions, Bretschger claims. 

The World Bank estimates that 80% of all wastewater is disposed of without treatment, which is a lot of potential clean water that can be used for manufacturing. However, the challenge is transforming all wastewater into clean water and extracting 100 percent of its contaminants. 

"Up until recently, many water treatment companies were only successful at recycling water and wastewater at about 50% rate (i.e., half the wastewater is converted to freshwater), yet new technology has now emerged to fill this gap," Govindan said. "With the ability for manufacturers to reuse the water they already have, other freshwater supplies can be used for clean drinking water and industrial manufacturing."

An Arizona company is offering to install technology that it claims converts air and sunlight into potable water. Source Global uses solar energy to turn fans that draw ambient air into a hygroscopic. According to their website, this patented water-absorbing material traps water vapor from the air. 

Water flowing through an open dam.

MarianneBlais / Getty Images

The water vapor condenses into a liquid that collects in a small tank attached to the panel. Minerals are then added to filter the water and provide the flavor most people are familiar with. The panels can be piped to deliver the water directly to a faucet or fridge dispenser.

"California's Central Valley is on the front lines of the world's water issues, with wells drying up, groundwater pollution rising, and towns running out of water. But as the climate crisis continues, more and more of us will face similar challenges," Source Global's CEO Cody Friesen said in a news release. "It's clear that we can no longer rely solely on extracting our drinking water from the earth's shrinking resources, packaging it in plastic, or treating and transporting it over long distances."

Making Gadgets Sucks up Water

Experts say that there's an urgent need to make clean water without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. About 1 in 10 people globally lack access to safe water. Meanwhile, industries such as semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and food and beverage have the world's most water-intensive operations, Govindan said. 

For example, Govindan said that semiconductor chip production (needed for everyday electronic devices) could require up to 5 million gallons of clean water daily for supply chain processes in just one facility. 

"This economic growth, coupled with complications arising from climate change, is driving the need for us to make the most out of our limited water supply and find new pathways to provide adequate and safe clean water," he added.

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