Turning fresh air into water seemed like nothing short of a miracle back in 2012.
That was when Israeli startup Watergen revealed its first atmospheric water generator to the world.
Watergen cools air, much like an air conditioner, until it condenses and becomes water.
But technology moves on apace. And H2oll another Israeli startup, says it can also produce drinking water from the atmosphere – but more cheaply, more efficiently and more sustainably. And in any climate.
It aims to address the global water crisis, especially in the developing world, where countries want to avoid expensive infrastructure, or costly bottled supplies.
H2oll has added a new element to existing water-from-air technology, by way of a concentrated salt solution.
Instead of cooling the whole air mass, it extracts and cools only the moisture molecules – around two percent of air content, depending on humidity – and turns them into water.
Watergen, subsequently bought by Russian-Israeli entrepreneur and billionaire Michael Mirilashvili, invented the direct condensation method to extract water from entire air mass.
But H2oll uses second generation technology to extract water only from the particles that will actually yield water. That’s how it saves energy.
The method it uses is called absorption or liquid desiccant technology. A desiccant is anything that absorbs moisture from air.
In this case, the company captures the moisture using a solution similar to the water in the Dead Sea, which contains one part salt to two parts water.
“Our technology is a game changer compared to the direct condensation that Watergen uses,” says Yoav Kirsch, CEO at H2oll.
“I think Watergen did a great and inspiring job introducing to the world the concept of atmospheric water generation. And it’s not something trivial, they really did a great job.
“But I think we have a technological edge with absorption technology. It has a superior efficiency and it can work in places that Watergen will probably experience difficulty.
“Instead of cooling the whole mass of air, which is what direct condensation does, we run it through brine, a salt solution.
“Salt absorbs water from the air, and then we condense only the water, because what we have now is a solution of brine and water. And then we heat it and cool it, we condense it and cool it and we get fresh, high-quality water.”
The technology was developed at The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, where a proof-of-concept prototype has been producing water since fall 2019.
H2oll, a spinoff from the Technion, had its research supported by the state-run Israeli Innovation Authority and the Ministry of Environment.
The company is now planning another trial, at a Bedouin school in Israel’s Negev Desert that has no mains water supply.
It’s also in talks with its first potential customers. The company is initially targeting urban areas which suffer water scarcity, or polluted supplies, or both.
The idea is to install its machinery on the rooftop of apartment buildings in big cities, such as New Delhi, Mexico City, or Los Angeles, and to pipe a constant supply of drinking water to each apartment.
Each machine produces 1,000 liters of water a day, enough for 200 people.
“It’s a device that you can install in a community, a village, an apartment building, in any designated location,” says Kirsch.
H2oll will either sell the machines outright to governments or large organizations that can afford them or provide them on a pay-as-you-drink basis. They could also be installed at supermarkets, so customers can pay to refill their own reusable containers.
The water-from-air works out at half the price of bottled supplies, and it’s cleaner than tap water, says Kirsch.
The biggest expense in producing it is the electricity, and H2oll is working on a solar-powered option that would drastically reduce the cost.
Most companies developing water-from-air products, maybe 90 percent, says Kirsch, are still working on direct condensation, the first-generation technology.
“I’m sure there are some companies trying to work on absorption, but none of them are exactly what we are doing.
“So we have a very unique offering to the world in a sense in offering this type of absorption technology, specifically our absorption tower, which actually extracts the air into the system and runs it through the brine, and the water generator.
“The Corps of Engineers in the US Army has acknowledged that this is the next thing and issued a major bid. It was too early for us to participate.
“But it proves that very large, serious organizations say this technology is the next thing in extracting water from air.”