Goodbye drought? These indian engineers have found a way to turn air into water like in Star Wars

Inspired by Star Wars' 'moisture vaporator' technology, a group of engineers from Kozhikode have created an innovative machine that can turn humid air into drinkable water

When the Indian city of Kozhikode faced an unprecedented water crisis, a group of young engineers decided to think outside the box for solutions. Inspired by a fictional device seen in the Star Wars movies, Swapnil Shrivastav and his colleagues founded Uravu Labs, a startup that transforms humid air into drinking water.

This innovation, born from a mix of curiosity and necessity, promises to revolutionize how we address water scarcity, showing that sometimes science fiction can become reality. Engineering student Swapnil Shrivastav, the creator of the project, commented on his invention:

“A source of inspiration was Star Wars, where there is a device that converts air into water. I thought, why not try it? It was more a project of curiosity.”

According to Wookiepedia, a “moisture vaporator” is a device used on moisture farms to capture water from the atmosphere of arid planets like Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker grew up. This fictional device operates, according to Star Wars lore, by extracting moisture from the air through refrigerated condensers that generate low-energy ionization fields. The captured water is then pumped or gravity-fed into a storage tank that regulates its pH levels. The vaporators are capable of collecting about 0.4 gallons (approximately 1.5 liters) of water per day.

From a curious idea to a commercial reality

If science fiction authors could devise the details of such a device, Shrivastav and his colleagues Govinda Balaji and Venkatesh Raja must have felt they had a good chance of success. Thus, in 2019, they founded Uravu Labs, a startup based in Bangalore. Their initial offering is a machine that converts air into water using a liquid desiccant. By absorbing moisture from the air, solar or renewable energy heats the desiccant to about 100°F, releasing the captured moisture into a chamber where it is condensed into drinking water.

The entire process takes 12 hours but can produce an impressive total of about 500 gallons of drinking water per day. However, Uravu has had to modify its path due to the production and management costs of the machines, too high for civilian use with current material technology, as explained by Shrivastav:

“We had to shift towards commercial consumer applications as they were willing to pay us and it represents a sustainability driver for them.”

This shift was enough to keep the startup afloat, which now produces water for 40 different customers in the hospitality sector. Looking ahead, Shrivastav, Raja, and Balaji are planning to investigate whether the desiccant can be made more efficient: can it operate at a lower temperature to reduce operational costs, or is there another material that could prove cheaper? They are also examining the possibility of connecting their device to data centers in a pilot project that would see the use of waste heat from the centers to heat the desiccant.

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