Harvesting water out of thin air


Harnessing humidity to quench thirst in the world’s most arid regions

Published on May 13, 2014 | McGill Reporter

by: Neale McDevitt and Chris Chipello

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that some 780 million people in the world today do not have access to clean drinking water. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, this lack of safe water has a serious impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Women and girls especially bear the burden of walking miles at a time to gather water from streams and ponds – full of water-borne disease that often lead to serious illness and death for millions of people. WHO says that every year more than 3.4 million people die as a result of water-related diseases, making it the leading cause of disease and death around the world.

But what can be done – especially in poor, arid regions where people must contend with the dual challenges of poverty and drought? To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the answer may be blowing in the wind.

“Our idea is to use a large sail – 55 square metres – to harvest dew to use as drinking water,” says McGill student Sami Sayegh of the Skywell project developed by himself and Concordia students Al-Hurr Al-Dalli and Charles Gedeon. “Sails are relatively cheap and a sail of that size could collect about 110 litres of water a day which would make it a valuable water source for small communities.”

If you think the Skywell project sounds like a good idea, you aren’t alone. Sayegh, Al-Dalli and Gedeon are presently in Rotterdam, having just been named as winners of the global student competition Shell Ideas360.

The competition – which challenges university students to conceive, share and collaboratively develop innovative ideas to help tackle energy, water and food challenges around the world – kicked off in September 2013, and attracted almost 700 submissions. Sayegh and his teammates Al-Hurr Al-Dalli and Charles Gedeon (both from Concordia) have made it to the final round of five that also includes teams from Australia, India, Singapore and The Netherlands.

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