A Water Fountain on Wheels

Nov. 1, 2017

Cars today are hyper-capable. As they’ve gained computing power, they have developed abilities far beyond transportation. Not only can they function as Wi-Fi hotspots, energy storage batteries, and backup power generators; they can also serve as a remote control to turn on the lights in your home. And Ford engineers have recently added drinking water production to the automobile’s long list of available features.

Doug Martin and John Rollinger, automotive engineers at Ford Motor Company, were inspired by a billboard in Lima, Peru, that collects and filters water from humidity in coastal air. So they designed an onboard system that collects condensation from a car’s air conditioning coils, then filters and dispenses it, making use of water that is traditionally wasted and allowed to drain on the road.

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“Turn a switch inside the car, and a pump sends water from the reservoir up and out a spout mounted near the front console. The water arrives chilled because it condensed on the cool surfaces of the air-conditioner coils,” Mr. Rollinger told the New York Times. The prototype was selected as one of the winners of Ford’s innovation contest in 2016 and is currently in the patent review process.

With the extensive number of appliances and gadgets in our homes that create condensation, from air conditioners to refrigerators, the potential for atmospheric water generation seems great. Turning cars—or any appliance—into water generators may not only provide an opportunity to make a utilitarian device more useful; it may save lives.

1.2 billion people today lack access to clean drinking water. As water scarcity affects more populations worldwide, atmospheric water production technology could help alleviate water stress. “There are people in a lot of locations who don’t have easy access to fresh water—arid regions, remote regions,” Mr. Martin said. “But even in a market like the US, this might be a feature for people who want to have extremely pure, clean water and don’t want water bottles filling up the landfill.”

If a car can collect water from air conditioning coils, what other devices could be adapted to provide clean drinking water?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.