Water-Gen

For creating water where soldiers need it most.

Troops can't always transport water. But now they can transport a water maker. The Tel Aviv, Israel–based company Water-Gen has developed three machines--one that turns air moisture into drinking water, one that purifies the dribbles of air-conditioning units, and one that purifies any water source (such as a small stream), even if it's been poisoned by an enemy. Last year, it made sales to seven countries' militaries: the United States, Israel, Great Britain, France, India, Mexico, and an unnamed Arab state. The company's revenue grew 50% last year, and it expects 300% growth in 2014.

A former special-forces commander in the Israel Defense Forces created Water-Gen, and although the company may expand to other industries, for now it's targeting only militaries. To hear how the tech works in action, Fast Company talked to Major Alisa Zevin, head of the Israeli army's facilities and specialized-equipment department.

How big of a deal is this for the military?
It is a revolution for us. Soldiers often can get water from the tap or water tankers, but some soldiers get disconnected from their organic units. There are water sources in the field, but we don't know their quality and don't want to expose soldiers to contaminated water. In the military's response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, we took one Water-Gen unit there as a backup. We also took it for testing at a field hospital there if pure water was needed to sterilize instruments.

Why is it important for soldiers to be able to purify their own water?
If soldiers have an activity out in the field that takes 24 or 48 hours, they're limited in carrying weight. We want to make them independent; it's better for the supply chain and logistics.

Can the system be improved?
Water-Gen weighs 33 pounds and can be carried on the back, but soldiers have said that's a lot. So we're trying to make it weigh less. Two 12-volts purify about 200 liters. The quantity is fine, but we want to make the battery last longer so a soldier doesn't have to carry other batteries. But the quality of the water was good; the taste was good. None of the soldiers complained about that.

[Illustration by Stoav Graphics]