Innovative New Device Uses the Air to Create Drinking Water for 100 People a Day

iStock.com, dinadesign
iStock.com, dinadesign

Clean drinking water is one of the world's most vital resources. Humans can only survive a few days without water (compared to more than a month without food), and yet more than a billion people around the world live with water scarcity, either due to a lack of natural resources or poor water management. And climate change will likely only make the problem worse in the coming years. New technology, however, promises to cheaply create potable water from just air, Fast Company reports.

Two water-centric tech organizations, The Skysource and Skywater Alliance, teamed up to develop a shipping-container-enclosed device that can turn water vapor (i.e., humidity) into drinking water at a significantly cheaper rate than other, similar technology or techniques like desalination. The group's technique recently won the $1.50 million Water Abundance XPRIZE, a two-year competition devoted to coming up with energy-efficient ways to harvest fresh water from the air.

Women carrying water buckets on their heads walk past a shipping container.
The Skysource and Skywater Alliance, The Water Abundance XPRIZE

The competition required teams to create a device that could extract at least 2000 liters (528 gallons) a day from the atmosphere using renewable energy, at a cost of no more than 2 cents per liter. That would be enough to provide for about 100 people for $40 a day or less. In response to the challenge, the Skysource/Skywater Alliance team created WEDEW, or "wood-to-energy deployed water."

The system uses technology Skywater had already developed to pull water from the air. The Skywater machine essentially creates a man-made cloud inside it. It pulls in warm air from outside that, when it hits the refrigerated cold air inside the device, turns into condensation. That water can then be stored in connected tanks. The pre-existing technology required a lot of electricity, though, meaning it wasn't cheap.

The prize-winning version is powered by biogas, making it easy to operate almost anywhere. The biofuel gassifier creates renewable energy cheaply from cast-offs like wood chips, coconut shells, and dead plants, vaporizing the material to generate power. The system also generates a lot of heat, which is good for pulling water out of the air—think of how humid it is in the summer versus the winter. In the process of generating energy, the biogassifier also creates biochar, a type of charcoal that can improve soil fertility.

In places where biogas isn't a feasible option (like if there is no available wood or other fuel sources), the device could also be run on solar power or batteries.

[h/t Fast Company]

The World's First Human Composting Facility Is Coming to Seattle

Simotion/iStock via Getty Images
Simotion/iStock via Getty Images

The state of Washington will soon be home to the world’s first human composting facility, reports IFL Science.

The facility is a project of Recompose, a Seattle-based company founded by architect Katrina Spade. When it opens in 2021, Recompose will offer $5500 services that turn a human body into one cubic yard of soil over the course of 30 days. Families of the deceased can take as much soil as they like—any remainder goes to sustaining conservation land in the Puget Sound region.

Recompose is one of several organizations working to provide more eco-friendly after-death options. Critics charge that more conventional choices, like embalming and cremation, have their share of issues. The formaldehyde used in embalming is carcinogenic, and Spade estimates that the combined formaldehyde found in all U.S. cemeteries could fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools. Plus, traditional burials take up land that’s quickly becoming scarce in urban areas. Cremation isn’t much better, environmentally speaking—a single cremation requires about the same amount of energy that an individual would use over a month, and it produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“For every person that chooses to be recomposed instead of cremated or buried, it will save just over a metric ton of carbon, which is pretty significant,” Spade told CityLab in January.

Recompose was made possible by a first-in-the-nation Washington state bill, signed in May, legalizing the practice of the “natural organic reduction” of human remains. Now all that’s left is for Recompose to become a legally licensed funeral home (required before it can start taking people’s payments).

“I think in general, death is a really personal thing,” Spade told CityLab. “And people experience death of a loved one in so many ways. So our goal with recomposition is just to add more choice when it comes to death of a loved one, so that it’s still really personal.”

[h/t IFL Science]

Why Thousands of 'Penis Fish' Washed Up on a California Beach

Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0
Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0

Nature works in mysterious ways. The latest example materialized at Drakes Beach near San Francisco, California, in early December, when visitors strolling along the shore stumbled upon what looked to be the discarded inventory of an adult novelty shop. In fact, it was thousands of Urechis caupo, a marine worm that bears more than a passing resemblance to a human penis.

The engorged pink invertebrate, which is typically 10 inches in length, is native to the Pacific coast and frequently goes by the less salacious name of “fat innkeeper worm.” Burrowing in sand, the worm produces mucus from its front end to ensnare plankton and other snacks, then pumps water to create a vacuum where the food is directed into their tunnel. Since it builds up a small nest of discarded food, other creatures like crabs will stop by to feed, hence the “innkeeper” label.

You can see the worm in "action" here:

Because the worms enjoy a reclusive life in their burrows, it’s unusual to see thousands stranded on the beach. It’s likely that a strong storm broke up the intertidal sand, decimating their homes and leaving them exposed. The event is likely to thrill otters, as they enjoy dining on the worm. So do humans: Penis fish are served both raw and cooked in Korea and China.

[h/t Live Science]

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