Finally, a Billboard That Creates Drinkable Water Out of Thin Air

No really, it's a billboard that can generate up to 26 gallons of water a day from nothing but air.

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MAYO DRAFTFCB / UTEC

I’ve never cared much for billboards. Not in the city, not out of the city — not anywhere, really. It’s like the saying in that old Five Man Electrical Band song. So when the creative director of an ad agency in Peru sent me a picture of what he claimed was the first billboard that produces potable water from air, my initial reaction was: gotta be a hoax, or at best, a gimmick.

Except it’s neither: The billboard pictured here is real, it’s located in Lima, Peru, and it produces around 100 liters of water a day (about 26 gallons) from nothing more than humidity, a basic filtration system and a little gravitational ingenuity.

Let’s talk about Lima for a moment, the largest city in Peru and the fifth largest in all of the Americas, with some 7.6 million people (closer to 9 million when you factor in the surrounding metro area). Because it sits along the southern Pacific Ocean, the humidity in the city averages 83% (it’s actually closer to 100% in the mornings). But Lima is also part of what’s called a coastal desert: It lies at the northern edge of the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, meaning the city sees perhaps half an inch of precipitation annually (Lima is the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo). Lima thus depends on drainage from the Andes as well as runoff from glacier melt — both sources on the decline because of climate change.

Enter the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), which was looking for something splashy to kick off its application period for 2013 enrollment. It turned to ad agency Mayo DraftFCB, which struck on the idea of a billboard that would convert Lima’s H2O-saturated air into potable water. And then they actually built one.

It’s not entirely self-sufficient, requiring electricity (it’s not clear how much) to power the five devices that comprise the billboard’s inverse osmosis filtration system, each device responsible for generating up to 20 liters. The water is then transported through small ducts to a central holding tank at the billboard’s base, where you’ll find — what else? — a water faucet. According to Mayo DraftFCB, the billboard has already produced 9,450 liters of water (about 2,500 gallons) in just three months, which it says equals the water consumption of “hundreds of families per month.” Just imagine what dozens, hundreds or even thousands of these things, strategically placed in the city itself or outlying villages, might do. And imagine what you could accomplish in any number of troubled spots around the world that need potable water with a solution like this.

potable-water-generator

MAYO DRAFTFCB / UTEC

Mayo DraftFCB says it dropped the billboard along the Pan-American Highway at kilometer marker 89.5 when summer started (in December, mind you — Lima’s south of the equator) and that it’s designed to inspire young Peruvians to study engineering at UTEC while simultaneously illustrating how advertising can be more than just an eyesore. (Done and done, I’d say.)

“We wanted future students to see how engineers can also solve social needs in daily basis kinds of situations,” said Alejandro Aponte, creative director at Mayo DraftFCB.

The city’s residents could certainly use the help. According to a 2011 The Independent piece ominously titled “The desert city in serious danger of running dry,” about 1.2 million residents of Lima lack running water entirely, depending on unregulated private-company water trucks to deliver the goods — companies that charge up to 30 soles (US $10) per cubic meter of H2O, or as The Independent notes, 20 times what more well-off residents pay for their tapwater.

42 comments
neoclectic
neoclectic

Does reverse osmosis remove all minerals from the water? If so, you're looking at creating health issues in the population that drinks the water.

AnumakondaJagadeesh
AnumakondaJagadeesh

Great. Water is the Elixir of life -- Leonardo da vinci.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),India

CarlBarnes
CarlBarnes

Until they give out a figure for the amount of electricity it consumes, I remain unconvinced. But depending on the supply of water vs. the cost and supply of power, it might be a good investment. But condensers usually take a lot of power.

CarlosFernandoRL
CarlosFernandoRL

This shows that there are many ways to use natural resources.

MarcusC.
MarcusC.

Wouldn't wind be a viable source of energy generation near the coastal regions?

Pee-Tor
Pee-Tor

This is nice for places where humidity is high. However, in most of the places where clean drinking water cannot be produced in a cheaper way, the humidity is actually very low. So imagine placing this in any desert country in Africa: it would probably produce very little water.

nadertubbeh
nadertubbeh

@OswaldoM 

Let me point out a miscalculation on your post. I work at UTEC, and I have correct data on the energy consumption of our billboard. Each of the 5 machines consumes 500 watts per hour. That is a total of 2500 watts, or 2.5 Kw/h. So, @OswaldoM, your assumption of a 10 Kw/h energy usage rate is inaccurate. Also, note that these machines, although always on, use sensors that stop the process once the tanks are full, so monthly energy consumption may be lower most of the time.

Still, I believe you are missing the whole point, and let me talk on behalf of UTEC on this. We are by no means trying to compete with Sedapal, or propose an alternative to the national water company. Their costs are cheaper by far. Moreover, the “product” is entirely different. The billboard generates clean potable water that is suitable for any use, including drinking. Sedapal’s water is not safe to drink, and doesn’t intend to. A liter of bottled water costs around S/.2.50. If you buy a 20-liter container, it costs S/.0.75. In comparison, a liter of potable water from the billboard costs S/.0.102. This is way cheaper than bottled water, but not nearly as cheap as Sedapal.

Our billboard only proposes an ingenious alternative for unprivileged populations that are not attended by the national water company, and who cannot afford bottled water. We are not suggesting this as a long-term solution, but as one of many alternatives that engineers and engineering students might consider building upon and perfecting to help undermine the water crisis currently affecting the world. It is also a means to inspire the public to rethink the role of engineering as a creative career that uses science and technology to bring solutions to social, environmental, and everyday life problems.

Nader Tubbeh

Digital Marketing Coordinator

UTEC – Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología

rchacko
rchacko

Hi,

    I'm interested in building one of these devices. Whom can I contact to get detailed info.?

som.karamchetty
som.karamchetty

Commendations to the college students and their professors!

This is a good idea at locations where the air has a high relative humidity most of the time and local annual rainfall is so meager that water storage is not economically viable. The concept can be further improved in several ways.

1. Add solar electric generators and battery back up so that the need for grid connection is not needed.

2. Bill board message can be operated by LED devices so that the system can pay itself partially or completely through charges for the message.

3. By interspersing and appropriately reorienting the LED signs and the solar PV cells, the same billboard surface (space) can be used for both electric generation and signage.

4. Sell or dispense the water at reasonable prices by mobile phone money or water credit cards so that water is not misused or wasted.

lynneternosky
lynneternosky

Lest see if this is truly feasible and with what adjustments if any. Some times reported word misses a bit of the details. What does UTEC say?.

Titanus
Titanus

There seems to be a lot of talk on how this is not possible but I would like to see a study done on how this idea could be used more.  A guy in Austin TX has made a personal sized system like this so it can be done on a small scale too.  I think the solar panels would work but only if you send the coolant into the ground to dump the heat and cool it naturally so that the solar panels or wind turbine can then lower the temperature to the optimal point.  For example, I have read that the cooling elements need to be at 5 C to work well that is 41 degrees F and the Earth is naturally at 50 F.  Cooling the last 9 degrees lowers the energy need a lot.  Another interesting bit is that the average humidity in GA (USA) is 87% in the AM and 51% PM.  Combined with the sun this might be a good way for people to irrigate around their houses without putting pressure on the local water department during times of drought.  I am sure this system could be useful in a lot of areas of the US South and lots of places around the world too.

MitraArdron
MitraArdron

This article is pretty misleading - its not creating water from air, its creating water from LOTS of energy, 


EnderLyon
EnderLyon

Make it self-sufficient with solar, and it could end droughts in many areas.

TheDisclosure
TheDisclosure

Now we don't have to worry about water supply shortage! Great news!

JacquelineLam
JacquelineLam

It reminds me of Star Wars; harvesting moisture.

OswaldoM
OswaldoM

Dear Matt,

I wish you could publish the energy comsumption of this device, because i've got some very good numbers about which could be the cost of operating this machine. As i posted before, and deleted the comment (since it was in spanish). I decided there were no rush on the translation so. Sorry for all the numbers and stuff, but i was very upset this this campaign and took my time to do my numbers.

This billboard says to be equipped with 5 "generators" (euphemism for condenser, just like regular home A/C system). Saying this A/C are the same size as a normal "window type" unit, (12 000 btu -2000watts) the energy consumption could rise to 10Kw/h. If this condensers were never turned off (no timer mechanism, and by experience, for the water output they have, probably they should be on all day, I've seen, with Limean humidity how much water drips from a regular machine) monthly the billboard would consume up to 7.2 Mega Watts (at a rate of 7.2kw/h).

Here in Perú, depending on the type of electrification/company/zone the Kilowatt price varies, but the least expensive (say industrial) seems to be 0.17 cents of Sol ( about 0.06 cents of US Dollar). So the billboard comsumption monthly bill would rise up to 1224 soles (about $470) in a best case scenario.  Using all this much energy, the panel generates in 3 months, using numbers from the video, 9000 liters of water, that's 3000 liters=792gallons monthly.

The Peruvian water company, "Sedapal" charges in Lima metro area an estimate of 1.5 soles per cubic meter of water. Say, $0.57 per cubic meter ( 1 cubic meter = 1000 liters = 264 gallons )

So the important numbers are: 

*estimate Monthly Energy Cost = $470 

water production mmonthly = 792 gallons

Totals: $470x792gallons

Price of water from sedapal= $0.57x264 gallons


I think that the problems are evident, the life in the desert, lack of water on coast cities (as i said in a comment before, 80% of peruvian's sweet water is located in the jungle, 18% in the highlands and 2% on the coast, where almost 20 million people live.) and social problems (Bujama, the place where this billboard is located is just a couple of minutes at the north of lima's elite citizens favorite beach, whre you get healthy running tap water, at 80kms south  of Lima metro area (guess why you get a billboard in the middle of the desert... ) ). But i've got another point.

Probably I wouldnt have wrote this if this were just another ad campaing, from another private university (like so many) that want to sell education, do business with it (and with the students-us, with the social and future repercussions that it brings for good or bad) , but this is reaching international communities. Dont get me wrong, i really WISH this problems could be solved, and why not, with a little help from our friends, but I personally think that this isnt an alternative, not even viable and for worse, backed up by an "university". 

Even though i'd thank to the real engineers behind this ( the advertisement agency) because they put in the international community agenda the problems that affect, not only us, but cities everywhere (like el cairo) Our nations shoud have this topics in the regular agenda, seeking water culture, its care , preservation an re-utilization


Here i've got some links that can back up some details in this reply- sorry most of them are in spanish


http://www.minag.gob.pe/portal/sector-agrario/recursos-naturales/recurso-agua/uso-y-manejo-de-agua

http://radio.rpp.com.pe/cuidaelagua/conoce-cual-es-el-valor-real-del-agua-que-llega-a-nuestras-casas/

http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/estimating-appliance-and-home-electronic-energy-use

http://www.rapidtables.com/convert/power/kW_to_BTU.htm

http://www.osinergmin.gob.pe/newweb/uploads/facebook/tarifaselectricas.pdf



RobertFlickinger
RobertFlickinger

Where's Bill Gates when you need him to help funding!? Better yet... Drop solar panels on these things and get them out there... everywhere. Solar power to pull H2O from the air. Amazing.

KaneDaly
KaneDaly

Check out droughtmasters.net - they have simple machines that can do the same.  BIG applaud for UTEC for not only an ingenious marketing campaign - but to show that you CAN care and make a profit at the same time!

LakeDolores
LakeDolores

Wow a atmospheric water generating billboard. Would love to donate to build more of these.

Bill_Gordon
Bill_Gordon

This is inspirational, the transformation of an advertisement like a billboard with a practical utility for a community is impressive. Thank you for this article which once again demonstrates that everyday objects have the capacity to be improved.

atmoswater
atmoswater

For your interest, here is monthly data on the water-from-air resource in Lima, Peru. The units are for water vapour density [grams of water vapour per cubic metre of air]

Jan 15.2, Feb 16.2, Mar 16.2, Apr 14.3, May 13.5, Jun 12.7, Jul 11.2, Aug 11.2, Sep 11.2, Oct 11.9, Nov 12.7, Dec 14.3

The billboard's water-from-air machine (or atmospheric water generator) will be a maximum of about 58% efficient at removing water vapour from the air in February and March. In July and August, the machine's dehumidification efficiency drops to 39%. These efficiency values presume that the chilled surface in the machine is maintained at 5°C.

The energy typically needed by dehumidifiers to condense water vapour into liquid water is approximately 0.4 kWh per litre of product water. Using photovoltaic panels for the energy source with a battery bank to allow 24 hour operation is still considered "too expensive" (except on an experimental basis) but as solar panel (and storage battery) prices decrease an ideal synergy is possible in the future.


harshad1313
harshad1313

Where on Earth did you get 'reverse osmosis' from'? The diagram clearly shows that it's just condensing and then filtering the water....

LaurelTaylorFitzhugh
LaurelTaylorFitzhugh

It seems like solar would be a natural source for powering this water generator...  Wow, what a cool cool idea.

sharonmay30
sharonmay30

@mattpeckham, 

I have chosen to write rhetorical analysis of your article. Would you be so kind as to tell me the audience you wish (or expected) to target?

nomaddaf
nomaddaf

@nadertubbeh I would like to point out a miscalculation on your post !   9,450 liters divided by 90 ( days in 3 months) is 150 liters per day divided by 3 (liters recommended to drink daily by and adult male) is 35. So this thing in fact makes enough water for 35 people not even close to the "hundreds of families" claimed,making this a colossal waste of money. I would love to know the cost of manufacturing,installing and maintaining this  albatross.

MitraArdron
MitraArdron

Oh - and if you look at the last paragraph $10/cubic meter is US$0.01/litre , considerably less than the cost of the 0.4kWH of energy required for the "free" water.

JorgeH.Vizcardo
JorgeH.Vizcardo

@OswaldoM  I am bachelor of engineering, you can not discard this alternative. With high efficiency solar panels, costs would be reduced. In places where most of its territory is desert, could be a great solution, the idea is there, you just have to improve it. We must thank who conceived the idea, no matter the reason.


Note: I'm Peruvian.



punzelle
punzelle

@RobertFlickinger  Maybe UTEC could get it on TEDtalks, which may get Gates' attention as a very worthy project -- and perhaps other investors, too.

OswaldoM
OswaldoM

@RobertFlickinger  Solar power could be a way, since this thing is located in the Limean coast ( as most of peruvian, a big and empty desert). But unfortunately, most of it is covered by a thick cloud layer almost all year round. The panels should be the most advanced to receive the radiation year round. But the cost of such technology should be evaluated, since Perú is a water rich country, but not very wise in population distribution. Almost 3/4 of the population live in the desert, coast cities, where water is scarce. Probably just 1/30 of population lives where 80% of peruvian water is. (Should check my numbers, but this are good estimates)

mattpeckham
mattpeckham moderator

@atmoswater Thanks for the extra detail Roland, it gives me a clearer sense of some of the challenges in the margins. I'd also like to know how much it cost to build up front, how much it costs to rent that space and maintain, and how the actual distribution process works in terms of access and allotment.

mattpeckham
mattpeckham moderator

@harshad1313 Reverse osmosis can obviously be part of a filtration system, so just because that diagram doesn't specify it (among other things) doesn't mean it isn't happening. In any case, "inverse osmosis" is taken verbatim from the technical literature describing the process.

EnriqueKitamoto
EnriqueKitamoto

This is a new private University. It's target is young guys who are searching to study engineering

punzelle
punzelle

@JorgeH.Vizcardo @OswaldoM  I agree!  I can think of locations in India where this would be a godsend, especially with the use of solar and wind power to reduce costs.  I have run a dehumidifier in my home just to dry a carpet, and I was astonished at the amount of water that accumulated in the holding tank, just from the air! 

OswaldoM
OswaldoM

@JorgeH.Vizcardo @OswaldoM  maybe you could provide some likes of high efficiency solar panels (their cost, dimensions and power output... ) I've thought myself of buying solar panels, but they are way expensive and the power output they have in a day could not power up an A/C unit for 15 minutes.

AlfredoUrquiza
AlfredoUrquiza

@OswaldoM @RobertFlickinger Are you sure you're not part of another university with a bad attitude towards a good ad campaign? I'm sure there could be huge costs involved in the "revolutionary" generators behind this billboards but this should encourage other people to make improvements. Why not involve the next company that takes the billboard space (because obviously, this ad will be removed after the university admission process is over) to continue the funding/improvement of the device? They could be a "green company" if they can mention the carbon print of the whole device.... 

The point here: add something to a good idea, don't stay only in the critic, pessimistic side.

auronlu
auronlu

@mattpeckham @atmoswater It's this kind of thing that charities from well-meaning westerners might really help with. Forget sending them our food -- which may not even be something they can prepare, if it requires water or certain kinds of cooking or pots -- and forget sending them our designer clothes which puts the local weavers and clothesmakers out of a job (see: the collapse of Madagascar's native garment industry, thanks to idiot charities shipping them tons of jeans and t-shirts). But this is the sort of thing we can fund and they can use. Potable water source? I say...SURE, I'll chip in for that one!

wwart
wwart

@mattpeckham @harshad1313  I've seen reverse osmosis used to remove impurities like salts, sugars, etc but not for removing water from air. This would work fine just by passing that humid air through a dehumidifier. Reverse osmosis could be employed to remove any impurities, but it's not clear whether there are any in this case that the carbon filters couldn't remove. In any case, if you've got cheap enough electricity this is a perfectly sound idea.

OswaldoM
OswaldoM

@AlfredoUrquiza @OswaldoM @RobertFlickinger Its not the pessimistic side. The panorama is set, there ARE solutions for the lack of edible water in the coast (starting from de-centralizing the country so people can move to other areas with the same opportunities they have in coast-capitalnear cities). Its just  that this is FAR expensive for being a solution.  We know about solar panels, it could be nuclear too. But hey, that's not a solution right? . And for sure, it is a good ad campaing, but no more than that