Top to bottom: Rutu Mehta and Jit Patel.
Latin for “sky water,” Aqua Caelum is a name meant to evoke the process of generating water from the air. A group of students from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has engineered a system that does just that. The team hopes to use the technology to combat severe water shortages around the world. WQP Managing Editor Amy McIntosh asked Rutu Mehta and Jit Patel, co-founders of Aqua Caelum, about their technology and how they plan to implement it.
Amy McIntosh: Take me through the origins of the Aqua Caelum organization.
Rutu Mehta: The idea came to us in the summer of 2017, when Jit and I noticed that there was a recurring theme in the headlines of several media outlets. This was the water crisis. Major metropolitan cities like Cape Town were facing water scarcity and it wasn’t something that was going to happen in 10 years, it was something that was happening now. After doing research, we found out almost 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water and according to the [United Nations], two-thirds of the population will face water scarcity by 2025.
McIntosh: What are Aqua Caelum’s goals?
Mehta: Our goal is [to] provide more individuals with clean drinking water so that people live healthier lives, girls can go to school instead of walking for several hours to collect water, and people don’t have to worry about quality of their water. We also want [to] educate people about the risks of drinking contaminated water, and simple methods of water purification so that they can empower themselves to live a healthier lifestyle.
McIntosh: Please describe the workshops Aqua Caelum created.
Mehta: We are not just looking for a temporary solution to this problem; we want to find a solution and believe that our educational programs [and] workshops will play a key role. By educating individuals about water conservation, simple ways of water filtration, benefits of good hygiene and sanitation, and the effects of drinking this contaminated water, we aim to reduce the money spent towards the treatment of water-related diseases by 25%. We have developed hour-long workshops that we will be teaching to kids from grade one through 12 and engaging them to learn about issues like the water crisis and help us make a difference.
McIntosh: How does the water generator work?
Jit Patel: Essentially, what the [water generator] does is condense water from the air. So as hot humid air passes over cool coils, it condenses the water molecules trapped in that air. The condensed water is filtered for consumption. The process is identical to a dehumidifier.
McIntosh: Why did you see a need for such a system?
Patel: What we take for granted in Canada is a privilege in many countries across the globe. Being born in Africa, I have witnessed firsthand and lived through the struggle of not having water for several hours, waiting in lines just to fill up a few liters of water, which is often dirty. The need for this system is greater than ever now as cities like Cape Town and Bangalore are running out of their supply. Millions of children are being deprived of their childhood and education as they have to help their mothers walk for several hours to get water, and providing them with this resource means that they can go back to classrooms, and become our engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.
McIntosh: How and where would you like to see this system used?
Mehta: This product is designed to target humidity-rich regions such as Bangalore so that we attain the maximum output. We expect to launch this product in late summer of 2018 in Bangalore so that individuals who are in need of drinking water can access it easily. We are currently designing our system so it can be used in humidities as low as 40%; however, as we improve our design, we would want our system to work in even lower humidities. We would like to see these devices used in homes, hospitals, airports, recreational facilities so that people can drink clean water and not have to worry about getting ill.