The weight of water limits how much can be brought on a long bike ride. There isn’t always an option to stop and fill up from a clean stream or drinking fountain, but water could be obtained from a different source: the air. Austrian industrial design student Kristof Retezár has created Fontus: a prototype of a water bottle system that condenses humid air into clean, drinkable water. His design made him a finalist for the 2014 James Dyson Award.
The Fontus attaches to the bicycle frame and consists of a condenser unit and a bottle for collection. There is a solar panel on top of the unit that powers the condenser. As the motion of the bike causes air to blow into a channel, the moist air is cooled, causing it to condense. The droplets roll back down the condensing unit, collecting in a water bottle mounted underneath.
A filter is fixed onto the opening where the air comes through, preventing bugs or dirt from damaging the components or getting into the water. However, the filter isn’t effective at removing pollutants in the air, which could contaminate the water. Until another filter is added to correct this problem, it shouldn’t be used in an urban setting.
Currently, the design is capable of producing a drop of water per minute, in air that is approximately 50% humidity with temperatures at least 20˚C (68˚F). Sadly, this means that it will take a considerable amount of time to produce enough water to drink. Retezár's home city of Vienna is not known for its humidity, so he was forced to conduct his experiments in his bathroom using steam from the shower. He predicts that areas with higher levels of humidity could produce as much as half a liter per hour.
The technology behind the design does not only apply to keeping thirst quenched; it could potentially save lives. Over 780 million people on the planet do not have reliable access to clean water, and the problem is predicted to worsen with the changing climate. Condensing humidity into drinking water could be a way to help curb that increasing demand.
Of course, this is not the first time a device has tried to draw the moisture out of humid air for drinking purposes. Warka Water towers in the Namib desert mimic beetles that drink the fog from the air. Eole Water uses wind turbines in the United Arab Emirates to cool air, condensing it into drinking water. Researchers in Peru have designed a billboard to condense humid air, dispensing the water at the bottom.
While it isn’t particularly hard to condense humid air into drinking water, developing a system that is practical and cost-efficient on a large scale is the limiting factor. The price of each Fontus device would likely run between $25-40 each, though that number will hopefully go down as the device is developed further. Mass production will also help drive down costs, and Retezár is currently investigating crowdfunding options that would make a larger production order more feasible.