In dry, remote regions of the world, fog-harvesting is sometimes the best option for getting water. When groundwater is too deep to drill for, and lakes and rivers are too far away, it’s easier to condense water from the air–normally with some kind of net or mesh that traps the droplets.
The idea isn’t new. People in remote regions have harvested fog for years, though the idea has more recently taken on new life. Researchers are working on new materials that capture more moisture per square-inch of surface, and several charities are distributing new technology in the developing world, including FogQuest, from Canada, and Fogua in Bolivia.
The advantage of such systems is their passivity. You literally leave them to do their thing, day and night. The disadvantage: They don’t produce much water, relatively-speaking. However large the device and however good the material, it’s never going to be a dependable resource.
That’s why the idea of adding electricity to speed up the process is appealing. This is what Eole Water is doing with its water-producing wind turbines and solar panels. It’s taking an age-old idea and making it work better. You can see the French company’s wind turbine design below. Essentially, it’s a normal turbine, complete with rotor and generator, but with added machinery like a compressor, air-intake fan, and humidity condenser:
Eole Water, which is based in the Haute-Provence mountain region of France, hasn’t been too successful so far. Though it tested its turbine near Abu Dhabi in 2012, it wasn’t able to find a permanent site and operator (the turbine is now back in France). Probably price was a factor. The machine costs at least $500,000.
Export development manager Cécile Hourtané says a smaller solar-powered version is selling better. Two 6.5-by-6.5-feet machines are installed in California and Texas. Another is off to Mexico this month, and another is set for delivery to Madagascar, in November. They can produce between 20 and 40 gallons of water a day, she says, depending on weather conditions.
“The machine can run on the grid too, but it’s really intended to be used with solar panels. It’s very interesting for remote locations,” she says. “I hope in the short future we will be able to cut our prices to allow small communities to generate water on their own.” The Mexican project is subsidized by a local government, showing how the technology is yet to pay its own way.
It currently costs about $39,000, but Eole is trying to get its prices down by making more installations and moving to higher-volume manufacturing, Hourtané says. We’ll see whether it proves value for money compared to cheaper and more traditional methods.