A billboard that creates drinkable water out of thin air
As a part of marketing for the application period for 2013 enrollment in the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), the researchers developed a potable water generating system and integrated it into a roadside billboard. The billboard promotes the ‘Ingenuity in Action’ campaign from the university and converts air humidity into drinkable water.
“This billboard reflects the educational proposal of the university to develop the ingenuity and talent of our students through a practice-based teaching. The aim is to awaken the interest to study engineering by making it more attractive to young people, and prepare them to become highly qualified professionals who apply science, technology and innovation for sustainable development of Peru”, said Jessica Ruas Quartara Director promoting UTEC.
But this solution isn’t as efficient in all areas with short supply of potable water. Lima, the largest city in Peru, sits along the southern Pacific Ocean – a location where atmospheric humidity is about 98 percent. Since there’s hardly any rainfall, and Lima lies on the northern edge of the driest desert in the world named Atacama, the city depends on drainage from the Andes as well as runoff from glacier melt.
About 1.2 million residents of Lima entirely lack running water. Aside traveling to get the water, these residents depend on unregulated private-company water distribution companies which charge up to 20 times more compared to prices their fellow citizens pay for tap water. In cooperation with May Advertising agency, researchers at UTEC started a campaign to promote engineering and provide free potable water.
“The central concept of the creative campaign is ‘Ingenuity in Action’ and it focuses on showing how behind all the innovations around us, big or small, there are engineers who used their ‘wit’ to provide solutions to problems and contributed to society”, said Humberto Polar, Regional VP Creative, May Advertising.
So how does it work? There are five devices which perform reverse osmosis behind the billboard panel. The air is goes through a set of filters before it is condensed. After condensation it goes through a carbon filter and combined with water generated by other four systems in a central holding tank at the billboard base. Each of these systems is able to produce nearly 20 liters (5.28 gallons) of water, thus providing a total of 100 liters (26.4 gallons) per day.
The system as a whole isn’t passive, and it requires electricity to function. Current version of the UTEC system could be upgraded with on-site power generation systems, thus enabling its use in remote areas without access to power grid.
The panel is displayed at Km 89.5 of the Pan-American Highway and it can be used by the surrounding community or vacationers who want their drinking water. The billboard has been in use for three months and it already produced 9,450 liters (about 2,500 gallons) of water.
Although reverse osmosis plants would be more efficient, they are suitable for citizens on the city’s water supply system. Use of these panels could prove significant for areas without water supply, as well as on resting points for vacationers on places with suitable air humidity and power supply.
Any method of water purification and potable water is most welcome especially in developing countries.
Decentralization of formerly public systems are the answer to many of the worlds infrastructure problems. Assuming the technological components and fuel servicing can be provided locally, air-to-water systems can work well in supplying potable water even in arid climates.