University of Newcastle researchers reach final of Water Abundance XPRIZE competition

Trailblazers: Clockwise from back, Dr Priscilla Tremain, Dr Andrew Maddocks, Dr Cheng Zhou, Professor Behdad Moghtaderi and Associate Professor Elham Dooroodchi. Of the initial 98 teams, only four were from Australia.
Trailblazers: Clockwise from back, Dr Priscilla Tremain, Dr Andrew Maddocks, Dr Cheng Zhou, Professor Behdad Moghtaderi and Associate Professor Elham Dooroodchi. Of the initial 98 teams, only four were from Australia.

A pioneering University of Newcastle research team that has developed technology to produce drinking water from thin air is preparing to showcase its revolutionary work on the world stage.

UON’s Hydro Harvest Operation team is the only Australian cohort to reach the final stage of the two-year and $1.75 million Water Abundance XPRIZE competition, which challenges teams to create a device that extracts a minimum of 2000 litres of water per day from the atmosphere using 100 percent renewable energy, at a cost of no more than two cents per litre.

Professor Behdad Moghtaderi from UON’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources said teams were working with the aim of delivering decentralised access to water to help solve the global water shortage crisis.

His team’s low-cost, fuss-free and energy-efficient prototype is capable of converting the air’s humidity into drinkable water. 

“We went into the competition wanting to keep the technology as simple as possible to ensure it would have worldwide applications, especially for developing countries,” Professor Moghtaderi said.

“Atmospheric water generators are usually based on refrigeration cycles that cool the air to below the dew point, the point at which condensation will form. 

“We’re turning that idea on its head. Our process is based on heating the air, not cooling.”

The modular and environmentally friendly technology can work anywhere without being bound to climate, which could potentially transform the future of water generation. 

“The first step is to use desiccant to absorb water at night,” he said.

“Then we use solar energy during the day to produce hot, humid air that moves over and around the desiccant. 

“The hotter the air, the more water it’s going to hold and then by cooling that hot air, we get the water back.”

Prize organisers said there was more than three quadrillion gallons of untapped water in the atmosphere, or enough to meet the needs of every person for a year.

The Hydro Harvest Operation team is comprised of Professor Moghtaderi, Associate Professor Elham Doroodchi, Dr Andrew Maddocks, Dr Priscilla Tremain and Dr Cheng Zhou, working under UON’s newly established Global Impact Cluster for Energy, Resources, Food and Water. 

Associate Professor Doroodchi said the team was “thrilled” to be selected as finalists in the competition.

“It feels great to be representing our country as we have been working incredibly hard to turn our simple idea into a viable reality,” she said. 

“Even if we don’t win, we will pursue the idea to ensure greater access to water for all.” 

They will join four teams from India, USA and the UK in the competition’s finale, with the winner to be announced in August.