World Water Week: Six innovations to quench the global thirst for clean water

With World Water Week bringing experts and innovators to Stockholm to foster new thinking and develop solutions to water-related issues, edie rounds-up the projects and products that could aid efforts to combat water scarcity.

Climate change has presented mankind with a maelstrom of issues and trends, often depicted in the media through melting ice caps and rising temperatures. For too long, water scarcity has been viewed as a “forgotten problem”.

While World Water Week acts as a much needed magnifier for water scarcity and pollution, more needs to be done to provide a basic human right to millions across the globe. UN figures already suggest that up 323 million people across three continents are at risk of infection from pathogens found in water. In regards to people threatened by a lack of access to clean water, this number reaches 500 million, and by 2030 around half the global population could be facing water shortages.

However, a movement amongst the private sector has meant that the tide is beginning to turn. While the repercussions of not dealing with water scarcity remain just as severe, businesses are beginning to act as “stewards of limited resources”.

This has been epitomised this week through soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, both of which have reached landmark water stewardship milestones early. But with more work needed, edie has brought together the best water sustainability innovations into one neat and tidy blue bubble.

Showtime for shower power

Sea levels may be rising but the planets surging population coupled with climate change consequences has seen water scarcity grow from a small pond of concern to an ocean of panic. Despite companies striving to reduce water footprints, there is little emphasis on consumers to do the same.

However, January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas introduced a wave of new shower systems that actively tell an individual when their shower habits exceed a certain number of litres of water.

Orbital Systems is an innovative company that has already introduced a shower capable of producing water savings of 90%, coupled with energy savings of 80%. A brief look through this emerging market will highlight numerous ways of using colours, graphics and noises to show users when they are close to exceeding limits.

Water from the sun: Not just a pipedream

The 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) tasked architects and designers to develop blueprints for installations that mesh aesthetics with the global needs of ending fossil fuel reliance and sourcing clean water.

The Pipe is a finalist for this year’s competition, and envisions a floating installation off the Santa Monica coast in California that acts as an electromagnetic desalination project running on solar power.

Designed by Canadian engineering firm Abdolaziz Khalili and Associates, the floating silver tube would be able to generate 10,000 MWh of electricity each year, while also powering a filtration system to create 1.5 billion gallons of clean drinking water for the city in the same timeframe.

Orbs in the ocean

Alongside the Pipe, the 2016 rendition of LAGI has introduced giant, clean energy-producing swan sculptures and a solar energy generating balloon. Also a finalist in the competition is the Clean Orb, a transparent sculpture that sits on the end of pier-like walkway to generation around 500,000 gallons of drinking water annually.

Designed by South-Korean company Heerim Architects, the Clear Orb’s surface is covered by solar contractors which absorb renewable energy to power a circulation system for water that enters the orb. Once inside the orb, the water is condensed and desalinated by a solar still, before filtering through to a fountain placed below the structure on the walkway.

The oscillating power plant is placed along the 300 metre outer edge of the walkway, producing supplementary energy which is transferred to a city’s energy grid. The inner walls of the walkway also list extinct animals as a means to encourage those on the walkway to examine how humans and nature can co-exist.

Why it should always rain on me

While the first two entries to this list are still in the design stage, the Warka Water Tower, which has featured previously in edie’s round-ups, has been operational in Ethiopia since May 2015. The concept, designed by Italian firm Architecture and Vision has already picked-up awards such as the World Design Impact Prize.

The Warka Water Tower can pretty-much produce water from thin air, as it uses a bamboo frame, recyclable mesh netting, ropes and a water tank to capture clean water from rain, fog and dew. The tower was inspired from natural structures such as termite hives and cactus spines and can be assembled in four days.

The canopy of the structure expands to provide shade, which the Architects hope will be used to create water-efficient vegetable farms. Mass production for the tower looks set to take place by 2019.

Clutching at straws has never been better

London has been ranked as one of the most water-stressed cities in the world. If the climate does ever reach the drastic point where Londoners don’t have access to clean water, we could soon see people drinking from the River Thames.

The LifeStraw concept has been doing the rounds on social media in recent weeks, as tech-savvy millennials share this simple-but-effective concept with their friends. The $20 straw uses a hollow fibre membrane that allows individuals to drink directly from murky and unclean water, by trapping pathogens in a light-weight purifier.

A purification pipe removes 99.99% of the water-borne bacteria and parasites that it collects, say the Danish innovators behind the concept. The straw can supposedly make 1,000 litres of contaminated water drinkable during its lifespan.

Surf the net and drink the ocean

The final innovation on this list was recently featured on the Discovery Channel, which offered individuals a chance to fund and watch over the solar-absorbing sanitation adventures of the Watly team.

The European Cleantech firm has been building on the success of a trial in Ghana, which saw an EU Horizon-funded super computer use solar power to provide 5,000 litres of clean and drinkable water to local communities each day.

Now the Watly team are fundraising to create what it calls the “biggest solar-powered computer in the world”. Watly 3.0 would measure in at 40 metres long and could generate more than 1,300 gallons of water every day for 15 years. The team is confident that once a large-scale roll-out commences, the computer would even purify and desalinise ocean water, while also providing internet connectivity and device charging abilities for around 3,000 people just by utilising solar energy.

Matt Mace

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