Czech tech tackles water scarcity

26 January 2020
The Czech Republic’s pavilion at Expo 2020 will showcase a SAWER system that can extract water from air

The UAE has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world at 500 litres a day, according to the US-based International Trade Administration. Coupled with the country’s limited natural water resources, this means that maintaining a sufficient water supply and reducing water wastage are top priorities for the UAE government. 

Currently, the UAE’s water requirements are primarily met through thermal desalination plants while a smaller share is met by reverse osmosis plants. However, at the Czech Republic’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, a potential alternative to desalination will be highlighted: using dehumidification technology to extract water from air.

sawerThe Solar Air Water Earth Resource (SAWER) system is composed of two sub-systems: one that extracts potable water from air and another that cultivates desert into fertile land.

 

Laboratory testing

 

At the Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague, scientists from the University Centre of Energy Efficient Buildings and the faculty of mechanical engineering first tested their water extraction system in laboratory settings simulating desert conditions.

Following successful trials, the device was shipped to the UAE’s Sweihan desert in July 2019.

“SAWER will be a functioning illustration of scientific and industrial potential, which is the original point of world expositions”, says Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, commissioner general of Czech participation at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“It will provide a solution to getting water in areas where it is otherwise impossible.”

sawerWithin the water-extraction component of the SAWER system, a series of steps create hyper-humid air that is then cooled to produce clean, condensed water.

In the first step, air is drawn in and reacted with a desiccant that absorbs the water from it. 

The dehumidified air is then expelled, while additional air is drawn into the device and heated to release water vapour from the surface of the desiccant to raise the air’s humidity.

Because heated air can bind with more water vapour, the “manually humidified” air reaching the system’s cooler contains more water and can be condensed to produce usable water.

The desert cultivation component of the system is still under development by the Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. It will use some of the water obtained from the air to feed a photobioreactor. 

This sub-system cultivates microalgae that help retain nutrients in the water. The algae-rich water can revive barren, sandy soil while facilitating better water retention in the soil around plant roots. 

Although this is not the first system to be developed that can extract water from air, what differentiates the SAWER system is that it is autonomous and runs exclusively on solar energy.

At present, the cost of the system stands at $400,000, but the team is striving to drive this down to $14,000.

The SAWER system currently produces about 20 litres of distilled water a day. This water is treated for drinking using a mineralisation unit called WatiMin, which is provided by Czech company EuroClean. 

After testing, the system will be shipped back to the Czech Republic and the findings from Sweihan will be used to further improve the design.

A larger version of the system, with a capacity of more than 500 litres a day will be installed in the Czech national pavilion at the expo site.

 

Pavilion design

 

Centred on the SAWER system, under the theme ‘Czech Spring’, the Czech Republic’s pavilion will be located in the expo’s Sustainability district.

Fiberglass capillaries, which have been nicknamed the “spaghetti monster”, will weave their way around the entire pavilion and up to the first floor. Some of these capillaries will carry water from the SAWER system to create a fountain in the centre of the pavilion.

On the exterior of the structure, cloud-shaped capillaries will provide shade for the surrounding flower beds, as well as for visitors entering the pavilion. 

sawerThe pavilion also includes a glass installation by international glassworks manufacturer Lasvit.

In addition, there will be six month-long rotating exhibitions by various Czech companies.

The pavilion was designed by Formosa AA and will be built by a consortium of Prague-headquartered MCI Group and Swiss company Nussli. Dubai-based La Mirada Contracting is carrying out construction works for the pavilion and also owns the physical structure. Following the expo, the structure will be moved to Masdar City.

The budget for the construction of the pavilion is estimated to be $10m, while the overall cost – including the installation of the water system and operations – is approximately $15m. 

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