Making water in the desert

The Desert Twins create water out of dry, arid air in the Mali desert.

The Sahara desert is the driest, hottest place on Earth. The SunGlacier team decided that if they could create water there, they could revolutionise the way people harvest water all over the world.

According to Ap Verheggen, the artist and driving force behind SunGlacier, the team knew their innovation, the Desert Twins, could create water by relying on the ideal conditions in their Netherlands research studio. But, with help from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, they were given the opportunity to test their concept in the harshest of conditions.

They set off to the landlocked country with the Desert Twins – one of them is the water maker, which runs with the same power as a small car light, the other contains the energy unit, which stores the solar power.

SunGlacier

It took several days of tinkering but eventually, the team were able to produce water using solar energy and the concept of condensation – a concept which is harder to rely on in Mali than it is in the Netherlands. “The first three days of testing were frustrating; our own sweat was the only liquid produced,” reads the team’s press release. “Despite the fact that during the course day the water maker was located in the shadow of the solar panel, the unit was still too hot to function. We soon realised that solar radiation reflecting off the surrounding sand was to blame.”

SunGlacier

Verheggen’s team tried various strategies with little success until on the fifth day, they had cooled the ambient air inside the box to such an extent that condensation could take place and something other than steam was possible. “We opened the box, removed the insulation and saw, for the first time, actual liquid water.”

“With our SunGlacier project, we demonstrate that it is possible to harvest water from air, using only solar energy – making SunGlacier probably the world’s first artificial water well to work entirely off the grid.”

SunGlacier
Going forward, the team hope to produce a machine that works like a well that doesn’t require a water source to operate. Also on the agenda is water storage and cleaning and enriching the water with minerals and salts.