Water is one of our most precious resources, yet despite being one of the most abundant elements on the planet, clean water can be remarkably scarce. Throughout all of human history, the quest for clean water has driven innovation and inspired incredible achievements in engineering, science, civil planning, and so many other areas.
In the modern world it is easy to take for granted all of the hard work and brilliance which went into making water so plentiful and easily accessible for most of the people reading this. Yet now more than ever, incredible technologies and brilliant minds are being put to work to come up with awe-inspiring solutions capable of producing clean water. Let’s have a look at five of the most amazing and unusual ways which we make clean drinking water.
1. Collect Clean Water Out Of Thin Air
It turns out that on Earth, pretty much wherever you go, you are surrounded by water. Literally can’t get away from the stuff. Even if there isn’t so much as a puddle in sight, the atmosphere contains a huge amount of moisture. Thanks to modern technology, this atmospheric moisture can be harvested from even the driest parts of the planet.
The idea of huge mechanical moisture harvesters in the desert is one that might be familiar to science fiction fans, because it is a concept that has appeared in some of the most popular entries in that genre, such as Star Wars and Dune. Yet a company called Eole Water has now made this a reality. Installed in some of the most arid deserts of the United Arab Emirates, these huge wind turbines can average up to 16 gallons per hour of fresh water collected and filtered from the atmosphere.
The efforts by Eole Water are quite amazing, and represent an attempt to provide long-term solutions for areas where water is most scant. Technology like Eole Water atmospheric water generating wind turbines are designed to provide supplements to local water supplies for drinking and agricultural efforts.
But if you want to do something similar, you need not look any further than Amazon for your very own at-home atmospheric water generator. It won’t be cheap, but for around two grand you can pick up your very own Aquaboy Atmospheric Water Generator. Capable of producing 2-5 gallons of water everyday straight out of thin air, the Aquaboy could be a worthy investment for anyone who really needs some extra water.
2. Recycled Sewage
Alright, this one might not be for the queasy. But you can’t deny the obvious fact that a huge amount of water (and that’s usually fresh, potable water in your toilet bowl) ends up literally going down the drain into the sewage system. On top of that, organic waste like urine and feces actually contain a huge amount of water.
As gross as it might seem, systems which recycle both sewage water and human waste back into potable water are already in existence. The Treehugger blog reported on one such system installed on the island of Pulau Seringat in Singapore. The system converts sewage into drinking water using a three step process, which includes intensive filtration, removal of dangerous chemicals, and finally filtration with ultraviolet light to kill any microorganisms. It can process an impressive 2,500 gallons of wastewater everyday.
Such ideas of waste reclamation might not be necessary to explore for those of us lucky enough to live in water-rich areas. However, systems such as the one installed in Singapore may prove very important in the future as the world faces rising quantities of waste water and increasing demands for fresh water. Already wastewater reclamation systems are proving highly useful in isolated locations such as oil rigs and other applications.
Where resources are most scarce, recycling is most important. This is something understood better by the astronauts on the International Space Station than by perhaps anyone else on the planet (or in orbit.) The ISS has some extremely innovative methods employed to make use of every drop of water which makes its way to the Space Station. Water is collected from the atmosphere in the ISS and recycled from waste water used in toilets and washing to be made back into potable water for the astronauts to continue using. Read this fascinating article from nasa.gov to learn more about water management in space!
Amazingly (and maybe a little disgustingly,) efforts to recycle human waste on the ISS don’t end with urine. NASA recently gave researchers a cool $200,000 to fund research which looks to turn human feces into an edible, synthetic food stuff. Gross?
3. Harvesting Fog
In the first item on this list, we looked at the possibility of harvesting water from the atmosphere in some of the driest regions on the planet. It requires some pretty fancy equipment to get water from the dry air of the desert, but what about somewhere where water is so plentiful in the air you can even see it?
The technique of harvesting the fog for usable water is actually an ancient one. The Inca Empire developed techniques to harvest water from fog in the cloud forests of the Andes. By building so-called “fog fences” above the rain line, the Inca’s succeeded in condensing the fog into usable water which could be channeled into cisterns and stored for later usage. The Incas might be the most successful example of this practice, but the concept is an ancient one and likely has been practiced the world over. Antique stone piles in Ukraine, so-called “dew ponds” dating from the medieval period in England, and other man-made features across the world could all be examples of attempts to collect fog or dew.
It turns out this technique is still alive and well in Chile, where the ancient practice has got a boost from modern engineering with the help of MIT’s Mechanical Engineering department. Mixing science with ancestral wisdom, they have succeeded in creating modern “fog fences” which collect enough water to support agriculture efforts and supply potable water. Check out this amazing video to learn more:
4. Solar Stills Offer DIY Decontamination and Even Desalination
The concept of a still is very simple: heat water up enough so that it evaporates, and then collect that evaporated water. Yet this seemingly basic method is one of the most effective tools available to get pure, clean drinking water. When water evaporates, it leaves behind just about everything that might happen to be dissolved in it. The resulting distilled water is some of the purest water you could want, and this is something you can do completely by yourself.
The term “Solar Still” can have a few meanings, each of them equally useful and fascinating and all relying on essentially the same principle. For the survivalist, a Solar Still often takes the form of a hole dug into the ground and covered with a sheet of plastic. As explained in this excellent article from Desert USA, this simple technique can be a lifesaving method of collecting water in a survival situation. Water evaporates due to the heat of the sun from the moisture or surrounding liquids, then condenses to be collected. Using this method, water can be collected from the ground or atmosphere if you wait long enough, or dirty water (even urine) can be cleansed with a properly constructed solar still.
On the blog Off the Grid News we find a more advanced and less rugged type of DIY Solar Still. In the article, the author outlines how to make a simple box with a glass lid which harnesses the power of the sun to distill water in your backyard. While certainly slower than traditional stills which use a heat source, this is an ingenious method of off the grid distillation which requires no fuel or energy, just water and sunlight!While one of the most attractive features of solar stills is their ease of use and the ability to build them yourself, there is an excellent product which has found its way into the kits of many survival experts. Originally developed for military and survivalist usage, the Aquamate Solar Still is a reuseable plastic solar still which provides everything you need to purify drinking water from just about any source in a portable, easy-to-carry package. Because evaporating sea water removes its salt, the Aquamate can even make seawater drinkable. A potential lifesaver, the Aquamate is a thing of engineering beauty. Given adequate sunlight, the Aquamate can produce as much as 2 liters of clean water a day.
In terms of water purification, solar distillation is quite literally the oldest trick in the book. Yet now some of the most forward thinking scientists are looking back to this age-old method as industry gains a keener sense of environmental awareness. Large scale solar stills have been investigated by companies like Sun River who believe that large-scale solar stills maybe the wave of the future. Because it relies entirely on the sun, solar distillation could be a winning solution to the troubling problem of desalination, which otherwise requires huge amounts of energy. As the demand for water rises, and the need to desalinate ocean water becomes more prevalent, we may see more of these modern large-scale solar stills becoming a reality.
5. Personal Filter Straw
With something like the Aquamate Solar Still you can make clean water pretty much wherever you go. But a solar still requires patience. If you are thirsty right now and have some contaminated water, waiting hours for it to evaporate and recondense can mean enduring a horrible experience. But if you have a personal filter straw, you can skip this nightmare and filter water literally as you drink it.Probably the most famous example of personal filter straws is the LifeStraw. We did a complete review of the LifeStraw Go Water Bottle, which contains the same type of filter which can be purchased seperately as the standalone LifeStraw.
Filtering up to 99.99% of bacteria and contaminants from your water, personal filter straws are capable of making water drinkable from rivers, lakes, and even puddles of standing water. It cannot desalinate water, so seawater is still off-limits, but almost every other water source opens up as a possibility.
In the case of the LifeStraw, water is pulled through the filter via suction, meaning you can only get filtered water if you draw it through the straw. Other examples on the market like the Survivor Filter also include options which allow you to squeeze water through the filter with a bag or other mechanism, increasing the utility of the personal filter.
Got Any More Ideas?
If you have any other unusual or innovative ways to get clean water, we’d love to hear them! Drop us a line in the comments.
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Do you know where your water comes from? It might be pulled straight out of the air, recycled from sewage, even harvested from fog.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.