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Water Scarcity: New Technology Inspired by Star Wars Converts Air into Water

Star Wars inspired technology
Star Wars inspired technology

When a severe drought struck the Indian city of Kozhikode in 2016, also known as Calicut, residents including student Swapnil Shrivastav faced water scarcity. "We were rationed to two buckets of water per day, sourced from tanks," he recalls. While water supply issues are not uncommon in parts of India, that month was particularly tough for Shrivastav and others. "It was a very humid situation; it was unsustainable."

Shrivastav had already taken an interest in water scarcity after winning a student competition in 2012 about the future of water in cities.

However, the experience during the drought further motivated him to seek solutions. Inspired by Star Wars, where there's a device that converts air into water, Shrivastav wondered why not give it a try. "It started more as a curiosity project," he comments.

This drive led him, along with Govinda Balaji and Venkatesh Raja, to found Uravu Labs in 2019, a startup based in Bangalore. Their system converts air into water using atmospheric water generators that employ a liquid desiccant to absorb moisture from the air.

By heating the desiccant to 65°C using solar or renewable electrical energy, they release the moisture, which then condenses into drinkable water. This process takes about 12 hours, and each unit today can produce around 2,000 liters of drinkable water.

Initially, Uravu Labs aimed to provide drinkable water to water-scarce communities, but they soon found it wasn't financially viable. "We realized the technology still needs more time to mature and reduce its costs," explains Shrivastav. With little support in India, they currently sell water to about 40 clients in the hospitality sector, who use it to offer potable water to their patrons.

Water scarcity is a global issue, especially in the global South, where climate change is exacerbating droughts and floods. More than half of the world's population experiences water scarcity at least once a month, and by 2025, it's expected that 1.8 billion people will live in areas with "absolute" water scarcity, according to FAO.

Atmospheric water generation offers a potential solution. With its energy efficiency and ability to operate without traditional water infrastructure, it's an attractive option in remote locations. The market for this technology is growing, projected to reach $13.5 billion by 2032, according to Global Market Insights.

There are two main methods for atmospheric water generation: cooling and condensation, and desiccant-based systems. While these solutions provide a temporary response to water scarcity, costs and efficiency remain challenges. However, advancements in energy efficiency and governmental support could drive greater adoption of this technology.

Companies like Majik Water in Kenya and Veragon in Italy are using atmospheric water generation systems to address water scarcity in their respective regions. While these solutions offer immediate relief, they are recognized as temporary and not a permanent fix due to their cost.

Uravu Labs and other companies continue to research and develop the technology to improve its efficiency and reduce costs. With advances in materials science and ongoing pilot projects, the future of atmospheric water generation looks promising, offering hope in the global fight against water scarcity.

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