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Creating drinking water out of thin air

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Illustration James Provost

In addition to oppressive regimes and roving criminal bands, dystopian movies have long traded on our collective fear of water scarcity. And with close to a fifth of the world’s population now living in areas without enough water, that particular specter becomes more of a reality every day. Fortunately, French inventor Marc Parent is on the job. After being inspired by a dripping air conditioner, he built a turbine that could capture potable water from wind, established a company, Eole Water, and began testing his prototypes amid some of the hottest, driest weather conditions on earth. “We wanted it to be a challenge,” says Thibault Janin, a spokesman for Eole. “In French, the saying is ‘If the training is difficult, the war will be easy.’” Here’s how they did it.

1 Removing water from the air requires electricity, which can be hard to come by in areas without an established power grid. The turbine takes care of that problem by harnessing the energy of wind via a shaft connected to a generator.

2 Once electricity is available, a machine similar to a hair dryer pushes hot air across hundreds of chilled pieces of stainless steel alloy. The same principle that makes your mirror steam up during a hot shower causes water droplets to bead up on the pieces of steel.

3 The collected water travels through a five-level treatment system, including a UV filter, to make it safe to drink. Currently, each turbine can produce up to 1,500 liters of drinking water every day, but Eole hopes each one will eventually provide between 20,000 and 25,000 liters a day, enough to support entire cities.

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