Lima, Peru, gets less than an inch of rain a year. But it happens to be humid enough that it’s possible to harvest water from the air–and the same thing is true in certain other desert cities around the world. That fact is the inspiration for a new design that collects water into a bottle as someone rides a bike.
Attached to the frame of the bike and powered by a small solar panel, the device cools down hot, humid air, and as the water condenses, droplets roll into the bottle. The movement of the bike helps send more air into the machine, so water can collect faster.
“Basically, the water-condensing system can function on any moving vehicle,” explains Austrian designer Kristof Retezar. “I restricted my project to bicycles because they are the most widespread vehicles in the world.”
The system is designed for places like Lima, where 1.2 million people live without running water. It can also work through most of the rest of South and Central America, along with large swaths of Africa and Asia, says the inventor. Basically, anywhere that’s hot and humid enough will work; most of North America and Europe would not. Kristof hopes to reach some of the 2 billion people around the world who live in water-scarce areas.
Though the design doesn’t purify the water, it should be safe to drink because it’s taken directly from the air rather than the ground. “Various filters prevent dust contained in the air from entering the inside of the bottle. The water is completely safe to drink provided that there aren’t any chemically bound toxics in the surrounding air,” says Kristof.
The idea of harvesting water from the air isn’t new; in some places, it’s been happening for over 2,000 years. Others have experimented with designs like billboards that make clean drinking water. But using a bike speeds up the process.
The Fontus design is a finalist for this year’s James Dyson Award. Kristof hopes to find investors to start producing it and also may eventually make a DIY kit.
“I could also imagine a set of do-it-yourself instructions attached to the key elements you would need to build the machine, distributed in areas where water scarcity and poverty are an issue,” he explains. “There are many parts of the bottle that don’t necessarily need to look the way I designed them, you can for instance use a bigger bottle as a hull, install the necessary parts inside and the system will still work.”