By Russ and Tiña De Maris
“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” RVers who favor the boondocking lifestyle may have to agree with Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lament. You may not camp by a salty seashore, but the air is most often filled with water moisture – but unavailable for quenching our thirst. Watergen, an Israel-based manufacturing firm, swears they have a way to wring water out of the air. Come next year, they say you’ll be able to buy a device from Camping World that will give you fresh drinking water in the wilds – without having to come back to civilization. Is this real – or just pie-in-the-sky?
Practical science at work
There is a science behind the claims. It’s called atmospheric water generation. Watergen has already demonstrated their ability to produce large amounts of drinking water from moisture in the air. For about $30,000, the company can sell you a unit that will wring up to 450 gallons of water out of the air, per day. Of course, the unit scales in at about a half-ton, so isn’t practical for Joe RVer.
But Watergen claims their new baby is a much-scaled-down version of the kind they sell to militaries around the world. RVers, they tell us, should see a two-piece unit that can produce “over 10 gallons per day of fresh, clean drinking water.” One part would mount on your RV rooftop, and come in as a lightweight, 18 pounds, and about the size of a rooftop air conditioner. The other piece that would be mounted inside the RV is the filtration and storage unit weighing 38 pounds.
Devil in the details
Did we say air conditioner? Interestingly, the principle behind Watergen’s water harvesting system is somewhat like air conditioning. The device uses a fan to pull outside air through the collector, brings it down to the dewpoint temperature, and harvests the moisture. The finer details include the fact that the air will need to have a humidity ranging from a soaking 99% down to 20%. At the same time, ambient air temperatures would need to range from 59 to 113 Fahrenheit.
While Watergen has clearly demonstrated the ability of their equipment to do what they say, for RVers, the devil could be in the details. First, let’s talk about price. While no “official” suggested retail price for the RV water-harvester has been released, Watergen’s public relations representative, Colleen Robar, tells us it “should be between $3,000 and $4,000.” If price isn’t an issue, let’s move on. The next question is, how do you power a big air-sucking, moisture dripping machine? A company press release blithely says, “The unit simply plugs into any 12V power source, either from batteries or solar panels.”
Lots of water – for lots of watts
Don’t imagine you’ll poke a fitting into your motorhome’s cigarette lighter socket. The device’s power consumption is a whopping 480 watts – upwards of 40 amps. And under ideal circumstances, you could harvest some 10 gallons or more of water per day. But in practice, how much water do you get – and how long do you have to burn 40 amps to do so? Tony Galardi, Watergen’s North American sales coordinator, responded, “The potential run time for this unit that would yield any given amount of water would depend on the relative humidity and temperature of the surrounding climate.”
That makes sense. But before you plunk down three or four thousand bucks, and figure out where you’ll come up with 40 amps of power, you probably should know things in a bit more detail. Says Galardi, “A performance chart for this unit is currently unavailable. However, as we head into the production phase of the ON Board device, this material will become available.”
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the money, and the ability, to use Watergen’s thirst-quenching machinery. But one other question remains. The idea is to extend your boondocking time in the wild by producing your own water in the field – no having to come back for water. But what about on the “other end of the equation”? Unless you’re ready to dump your dirties on Mother Nature, you’ll still be needing to come back to dump your holding tanks. But perhaps that’s another one for Watergen’s tech team: a device that turns waste water into drinking water.