Producing water out of thin air used to sound like magic, but thanks to modern technology, this ‘spell’ is becoming available to everyone. Fontus, a $100 solar-powered device can pull moisture from the air and condense it into potable water.
Fontus is the brainchild of Vienna-based designer Kristof Retezár. It works on the simple principle of condensation, just like the droplets of water that collect on the sides of a cold soda can when you take it out of the fridge. But the Fontus can collect a lot more water than that, because it uses thermoelectric cooling. A condensator in the device is connected to a series of hydrophobic surfaces that repel water. So when it takes in air, these surfaces get cold, leaving behind condensation.
“Because they’re hydrophobic, they immediately repel the condensed water that they created, so you get a drop flow [into the bottle],” Retezár explains.
“This is simply condensation of the humidity that is contained in the air,” he added. “You always have a certain percentage of humidity in the air, it doesn’t matter where you are – even in the desert. That means you would always potentially be able to extract that humidity from the air. Basically, you are taking air in a vapor state and condensing it into a liquid state.”
So exactly how long does it take for the Fontus to produce a decent amount of water to drink? Well, turns out not too long. It can create half a liter of water in an hour, but only if the weather conditions are “really good” – between 86 and 104 degrees F, and between 80 and 90 percent humidity. It actually took Retezár 30 attempts to be able to calibrate the Fontus to a steady output of one drop condensed per minute.
The water will be clean thanks to the filter at the top of the device which keeps dust and bugs away, but there’s no way to actually decontaminate the water for now. “The water you get is clean, unless the air is really contaminated,” Retezár said. “We’re thinking about making a bottle that also has a carbon filter, and this one would be for cities or areas where you might think the air is contaminated. But originally, this water bottle was thought to be used in nature, and places where you wouldn’t have contaminated air.”
The Fontus comes in two different versions – Airo for hikers, and Ryde for cyclists. The latter helps cyclists collect all the water they need during long-distance rides with few pit stops. The airstream generated by the moving bike will easily push air into the bottle, condensing it into water. The stand-alone Airo version will have an inverted ventilator to suck air into the system. This version can be used in regions with high humidity and scarcity of drinking water.
The Fontus was shortlisted for the James Dyson award in 2014, helping Retezár gain more exposure and funds. The Austrian government has since helped him cover expenses for technical development. For mass production, he plans to start a crowdfunding campaign in March. If everything goes according to plan, the product will be available to consumers by the end of this year, priced at around $100.
With millions of people around the world lacking access to clean drinking water, from arid African countries to polluted areas like Flint, Michigan, in the United States, the Fontus is a glimmer of hope that we might one day efficiently solve water shortages. It still needs a lot of work to really be a solution, but if this prototype is any indication, the Fontus could change things for the better in the near future.