Pulling Water Out of Thin Air
As 2020 comes to an end, and we look forward to a new decade of progress with the onset of 2021, humanity is instilled with hope. We hope for a future that is better than our past. We hope for a future in which we take a step forward without ever having to look back, and most importantly, we hope for a future in which we can sustain this progress without endangering the generations that succeed us. The new decade brings with it the opportunity for a new beginning, but we forget that despite every step taken forward, there is still a cold wind that blows behind us, making the path ahead much more treacherous than we would have ever expected.
Today the world is facing multiple ecological crises all at once. We watch the world crumble before our very eyes, and yet, we do nothing. One of the most devastating crises faced by humanity in the 21st century is the Global Water Crisis.
844 million people across the world lack basic drinking water access, which means that more than 1 out of every 10 people on the planet live under conditions of severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year. Every day, more than 800 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhoea attributed to poor water quality and lack of sanitation. Some of this scarcity has even led to violence and conflict, especially in Africa, Southern Asia and the Middle East. The Syrian conflict was also triggered by a years-long drought.
It is expected that by 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages. As the Global Water Crisis grows to become more and more devastating with each passing second, we once again turn to the world of science to help us find our way.
A great contribution to achieving global peace and ending global poverty would be giving these people water without high costs and without a lot of infrastructure. Say, for example, pulling water right out of thin air. This rather amazing idea one would only expect to see or hear about in the next Star Trek movie is the core principle behind ‘WEDEW’.
WEDEW (Wood-to-energy deployed Water ) is a sustainable and portable energy-water generator. The machine converts biomass into essential human resources, such as water and biochar (charcoal), while sequestering would-be greenhouse gases into the ground. Users dump discarded plant and animal materials, such as wood chips or nutshells, into the machine, which WEDEW heats up, releasing water vapour into the air in the process. Then the generator condenses the vapour into drinkable water. The whole system, which also includes a battery storage pod and a refrigeration module, fits into a single transport container that can be easily deployed across the world at low costs.
The WEDEW system can generate 2,000 litres of water every single day for only 2 pennies. This process of water generation that replicates the formation of clouds is made possible due to Biomass Gasification. WEDEW runs on Biomass Gasification, which operates at less than 1/10th the cost of accessing solar power while occupying the area of only a single panel. What is interesting is that Biomass Gasification is not ordinary combustion: The process superheats the byproducts of agriculture, forestry, and natural disasters, that are available at little to no cost, and converts them into electricity and biochar. The biochar is excellent for further agricultural use, eliminating a significant source of greenhouse gases and fertilisers, whereas the 25kWh of renewable energy that is generated can function as a micro-grid solution to power lights and facilitate communication in times of emergency.
Most importantly, WEDEW not only uses a 100 per cent renewable energy source, it is also carbon-negative. This means that the machine generates extra energy that can be used by the local community.
WEDEW has most definitely been successful in achieving its goal.
While helping developing countries prepare and adjust to global warming, wars, and disasters, the machine works without regard to the weather, infrastructure or a hostile government.
In 2020, WEDEW and the World Food Programme formed a partnership to bring the generator to a refugee camp in Uganda, in addition to communities in Tanzania.
By providing us with a machine that can produce water, renewable energy, and biochar all in one day, at extremely low costs, while also running on a renewable energy source, WEDEW paves the way for the future of restorative and regenerative scientific models that can further our progress by healing the aching wounds from our past.
-Ayushmaan Ashish Kher