In world first, Israeli know-how helps India village get water from air

Unfortunately, revolutionary air-water machines can't solve water crisis here, officials say.

clouds88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The air we breathe can also be the water we drink. This simple yet radical new concept has begun to gain momentum in the past few years. Several companies have developed technologies to transform the moisture in the air into drinking water. Two of them, self-described world leader Air Water Corporation and startup EWA (Earth, Water, Air) Technologies Group, utilize Israeli know-how and manufacturing to provide solutions aimed primarily at destitute Third World villages. In a major breakthrough, Jalimudi, in India's Andhra Pradesh state, became the first village in the world to get its water directly from the air last week. Air Water Corporation and its partner, WaterMaker India (PVT) Ltd., in conjunction with the Indian government, provided the villagers with a machine that will supply all of their drinking, washing and cooking needs. The Indian government will provide the electricity to run the machine. The village, in India's southeastern hinterland, lies far from water pipelines. Both Air Water Corporation and EWA hope to develop a lucrative market that could provide a real solution for remote villages. While desalination plants are more suitable to close Israel's water deficit, blue-and-white technology could help hundreds of thousands in Africa, Asia and South America, where infrastructure is scarce and water is becoming ever scarcer. With climate change drying up the world's water and causing erratic rainfall, the air-water machines could prove to be a major asset. In India, many wells have either dried up or become contaminated, forcing villagers to walk for kilometers to get water. Air Water Corporation's product promises a clean, immediately available resource. "This is the first village where we have officially become the water company supplying water to 600 people. Hundreds of people lined up to get water," company president Michael Zwebner told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend. Zwebner was born in Israel and divides his time between the UK and the US. While the original technology is based on US patents, "they were developed and enhanced in Israel, and the machines themselves are manufactured in Jerusalem," he said. Air water machines pull in the humidity in the air, filter it in various ways to remove pollutants, and produce clean water. The machines remineralized the water to conform to the highest standards for drinking water, Zwebner said. At $100,000 for the machine that supplies Jalimudi, it's economically feasible with government support, he said. Zwebner said they expected multi-million dollar orders to come flying in now that they had a proven model in operation in India. While Jalimudi was the first village, the company has provided many of its 15 different models to clients worldwide. "We have supplied units to the US Marines, the Chinese Navy, and the South African Army. In Bolivia and Venezuela, we've shipped units to hospitals for use instead of poor quality tap water," he told the Post. With regard to Israel's water crisis, however, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor told the Post that air-water machines had been looked into but ultimately discarded as an option. "They are very expensive, and they don't produce enough water. The price is just too high for too little water. The Water Authority looked at them, too, among other options, but decided against it," he said. Their largest machines produce 5,000 liters, or five cubic meters, per day. That's nothing, Schor contended. Israel faces a water deficit of more than 300 million cubic meters this year. Israel has settled on desalination, which can provide water in the million to a hundred million cubic meters per year range, as the solution. While Zwebner said his company could not replace Israel's Mekorot national water company, he nevertheless contended its machines could still play a role. Particularly relevant in light of the temporary contamination of the springs that supply Eden and Neviot that was revealed last week, Zwebner said his company had plans to step into the bottled water market. "We are planning to bottle the water from our machines and sell it in Israel," he said. "Of course, we are not subject to the same problems Eden and Neviot have had." In addition, Zwebner said his machines could potentially be suitable for small communities in Israel. "We are not replacing the water utility on a large scale. But for new settlements or kibbutzim, that's where we can step in and provide a very good solution. Hook up one of our machines and you can have water in 10 minutes. Governments can basically 'plug and play,'" he said. Zwebner said Air Water Corporation was the world's leader in air-water machines. Machines manufactured in Jerusalem had made their way to many Arab countries - including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and Oman, he said. EWA, an Israeli startup established in 2006 and led by Dr. Etan Bar, said it hoped to sit down with the relevant authorities next month to see if it could also play a role in addressing Israel's water shortage. EWA has developed a modular unit that can produce 25 liters of water a day, Yitzhak Gershonowitz, the startup's director of business development, told the Post. By linking these modular units together, you can create a system which produces 1,000 liters of water per day. The company has developed a "rural concept" aimed at the developing world. The idea is to provide off-grid agricultural communities with the fresh water they need. The company has received inquiries from Africa, South America and Mediterranean countries. Bar was in Greece talking to 80 interested parties, Gershonowitz said. EWA is currently in discussion with several funders looking for the capital needed to start mass production. The firm had several working models, he said. Gershonowitz noted that air-water machines also provided a reliable supply of water in the face of terrorist threats to the drinking supply. Because they were not hooked up to the main water systems, they would not be affected by a biological terrorist attack on a city's water supply, he said. Both Air Water Corporation and EWA said their machines produced water at a very efficient and cost effective rate per kilowatt hour. In fact, both companies said they were working on integrating green power production technologies to make their products totally clean, sustainable and independent. "We are working with some scientists to produce power using wind technology and combining them with our machines, to create turnkey situations. In effect, it will be energy from wind and water from air, perhaps as God originally intended," Air Water Corporation's Zwebner said. Furthermore, "Rather than rely on wind in the atmosphere, the machine creates its own wind. It sucks air into the machine, and we are looking at using air from the exhaust to assist in propelling the machines. It probably won't be enough to power the whole machine, but could perhaps provide as much as 80 percent of the power needed. So perhaps the cost of machines will be much lower next year," he said. EWA's Gershonowitz said his firm was looking into powering the machines with bio-fuel. The company had already been in discussions with the Ivory Coast to assist in growing jatropha - a bio-diesel plant. "The plant would power the machine, which would provide the water to grow the plant," he said. Using renewable fuels to power the technology has come to be seen as increasingly important. It makes little sense to provide an off-grid village with a water solution that requires a significant investment in electricity and energy, and thus generates more costs and pollution. Instead, companies are increasingly partnering to combine solutions to create the perfect green product.