a us-based firm has recently launched a high-tech gadget in India with the alluring promise of resolving the water crisis. 'Watermaker', a product of Atmospheric Water Technology Incorporation (awt), extracts water from air. It is being marketed across the country by Watermaker India (wmi), awt's Mumbai-based subsidiary. We are even trying to convince the Union ministry of rural development to introduce the product in villages," reveals Neeraj Chugh, sales manager of wmi.
Watermaker's methodology is simple. "In principle, the device converts vapour into water, thereby artificially completing nature's water cycle," explains Chugh. With the help of a blower, vapour is drawn into an electrostatic (electric) filter. Thereafter, it is circulated along with a refrigerant to convert it into a liquid. The resulting water is treated in an ultraviolet light chamber that generates ozone to kill bacteria. It is also passed through high and low density charcoal filters to remove solids and polluting oxidised compounds.
According to Chugh, industrial units as well as households can use the device. It can be installed anywhere, but its performance depends on the local temperature and relative humidity (rh) levels. As per the product brochure, optimum results are attained at a temperature of 38c and rh value of 80 per cent. Depending on its size, the gadget can generate 20 litres to two million litres of water per day. However, figures on the quantity of air required to produce the water are not being disclosed. "This is alarming," asserts Saumitra Mukherjee, a professor from the School of Environmental Sciences (ses), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. "If the vapour is being used on a large scale, then it can disturb the environmental balance," he adds.
Another drawback is high capital cost. In the us, an investment of us $2,200 (around Rs 1,00,000) is required to produce 20 litres of water per day. In India, the expenditure will be 50 per cent more due to import duties. "This is a very expensive proposition for most Indian households, who cannot even afford the basics of life. For any technology to be called successful in solving the water problems, it has to be made affordable for the poor section of the society," asserts Jagveer Singh, director of Rajasthan-based non-governmental organisation Gram Vikas Navayuvak Mandal. wmi officials, however, paint a rosy picture. "When we expand our operations in India, the investment will go down. Moreover, operational cost of Watermaker is peanuts in the us -- 50 to 80 paise per litre for a device generating more than 600 litres of water per day. Therefore, it proves economical in the long-run," says Chugh. According to him, the device has other advantages -- virtually no maintenance costs, as its filters are replaced rarely; no environmental pollution, as effluents are not generated; and no raw material is required, other than electricity or its alternatives.
But experts do not buy these claims. "In villages, which face maximum water scarcity, the device will mostly not function due to lack of power supply. Same may be the case in urban areas. The device will only mean wastage of funds. Hence, water conservation should be encouraged," states Anupam Mishra, director of the environmental cell of Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi.
Another challenge for the technology is the poor air quality in most Indian cities. Is it possible to get good quality drinking water from air? According to Chugh, Delhi Jal Board has testified that water generated from the air of polluted Pragati Maidan area is potable. "At dew point (the temperature at which vapour condenses), only vapour can condense. No other particles would be a part of the process. Therefore, the water quality will be as per the stringent norms set up by the European Union," he claims. V Subramanian, also a professor at ses, disagrees with his contention. "Any particle can condense along with the vapour. For instance, condensed fog will contain pollutants or metals that are soluble in water," he explains.
Watermaker's success will certainly depend on how these issues are dealt with. "It is a must to verify the quality and amount of water generated from air at various places. These results can only prove whether Watermaker's output is safe or not," concludes D Santosh Makhijani, additional director of air and water laboratory, Central Pollution Control Board, New Delhi.