Making Water From Thin Air
A company that developed technology capable of creating water out of thin air nearly anywhere in the world is now under contract to nourish U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.
The water-harvesting technology was originally the brainchild of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sought ways to ensure sustainable water supplies for U.S. combat troops deployed in arid regions like Iraq.
"The program focused on creating water from the atmosphere using low-energy systems that could reduce the overall logistics burden for deployed forces and provide potable water within the reach of the war fighter any place, any time," said Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker.
To achieve this end, Darpa gave millions to research companies like LexCarb and Sciperio to create a contraption that could capture water in the Mesopotamian desert.
But it was another company, Aqua Sciences, that developed a product on its own and was first to put a product on the market that can operate in harsh climates.
"People have been trying to figure out how to do this for years, and we just came out of left field in response to Darpa," said Abe Sher, chief executive officer of Aqua Sciences. "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere."
Sher said he is "not at liberty" to disclose details of the government contracts, except that Aqua Sciences won two highly competitive bids with "some very sophisticated companies."
He also declined to comment on how the technology actually works.
"This is our secret sauce," Sher said. "Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, it tastes good, but we won't tell you what's in it."
He did, however, provide a hint: Think of rice used in saltshakers that acts as a magnet to extract water and keeps salt from clumping.
"We figured out how to tap it in a very unique and proprietary way," Sher said. "We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination.
"Think of the Dead Sea, where nothing grows around it because the salt dehydrates everything. It's kind of like that."
The 20-foot machine can churn out 600 gallons of water a day without using or producing toxic materials and byproducts. The machine was displayed on Capitol Hill last week where a half-dozen lawmakers and some staffers stopped by for a drink.
"It was very interesting to see the technology in action and learn about its possible implementation in natural disasters," said Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., a Republican from Florida whose hurricane-prone district includes Fort Lauderdale.
"It was delicious," Shaw said.
Jason Rowe, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Feeney, another Florida Republican, called the technology "pretty impressive."
"I was pretty blown away by the things it's able to do," Rowe said. "The fact that this technology is not tied to humidity like others are makes it an attractive alternative for military bases in the Mideast where humidity is not really an option.
"It seems like it's a cheaper alternative to trucking in bottled water, which has a shelf life," said Rowe, who described himself as a fiscal hawk.
Once deployed, the machines could reduce the cost of logistical support for supplying water to the troops in Iraq by billions of dollars, said Stuart Roy, spokesman of the DCI Group, Aqua Sciences' public affairs firm.
The cost to transport water by C-17 cargo planes, then truck it to the troops, runs $30 a gallon. The cost, including the machines from Aqua Sciences, will be reduced to 30 cents a gallon, Roy said.
Several systems on the market can create water through condensation, but the process requires a high level of humidity.
Aqua Sciences' machines only require 14 percent humidity, Roy said. "That's why this technology is superior and why they are getting the contracts."
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