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Solar-powered water extraction from atmospheric air

By Mary Page Bailey |

A first-of-its-kind pilot project in Abu Dhabi is integrating large-scale atmospheric water generation (AWG) with solar-thermal energy storage to enable carbon-free production of water. Led by partners AQUOVUM LLC (Dover, Del.; www.aqvglobal.com), Masdar Clean Energy (www.masdar.ae) and Khalifa University of Science and Technology (both Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.; www.ku.ac.ae), the project will couple AQUOVUM’s dehumidification-based AWG technology with molten-aluminum, thermal energy-storage technology developed by Azelio AB (Gothenburg, Sweden; www.azelio.com). The project will run for 12 months and is anticipated to produce an average of 10,000 L/d of water using only renewable energy and air.

AWG technology employs a cooling-condenser concept wherein warm air is drawn into the system and the air’s moisture condenses onto coils that contain a compressed refrigerant. From there, the water is collected and purified for a variety of potential end uses. “The average air conditioner expends 65% of its energy on cooling and 35% on removing water, but in our dehumidification platform, we’re using 65% of the energy to remove water from the environment and just 35% to cool the coils,” says Robert Wood, AQUOVUM founder and chief technology officer. He attributes this efficiency to the system’s novel approaches to airflow and coil configuration. “We are essentially looping the airflow through the system in a manner that allows us the highest possible extraction of water. Because of this crossflow circulation mechanism, we can condense more of the water through the machine,” he explains.

Furthermore, instead of using conventional single-coil cooling, AQUOVUM utilizes a multi-coil array that increases the cooling surface area available for airflow and condensation, as well as a special method for cooling and drying the coils that prevents the buildup of bacteria and other types of biological contaminants. AQUOVUM’s system also comprises smaller compressor units operating in parallel to improve reliability.

Following this demonstration project, Wood envisions that such AWG systems could be integrated into modular units with energy-storage and water-purification capabilities for installation in a wide variety of end markets, including agriculture, mining and oil and gas. 

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