Edmonton student inventors create filter which pulls clean drinking water out of thin air

A team of student entrepreneurs and inventors from the University of Alberta hope to conjure clean drinking water out of thin air.

The prototype will be pitched at an upcoming competition for student entrepreneurs

A team of entrepreneurs at the University of Alberta are working on a prototype that would turn moisture in the air into a reliable source of clean drinking water. (File photo)

A team of student entrepreneurs and inventors from the University of Alberta hope to conjure clean drinking water out of thin air.

It's just a prototype for now, but Edmonton's Rutu Mehta believes the 'Aqua Caelum' system has the potential to provide millions of people around the world with access to clean drinking water.

It's much like a dehumidifier, Mehta said. Using thermodynamics, the atmospheric water generator pulls water droplets from the air and runs the water through a filtration system. The end result? Good old, easy-drinking H2O. 

"It's for developing countries that don't have access to clean drinking water," Mehta said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It condenses the water from the air, so as hot, humid air passes over cool coils, it condenses the water molecules trapped in that air, which can be further filtered for consumption."

Mehta and a group of her fellow Edmonton students will pitch their design at an upcoming competition organized by Enactus, a international non-profit comprised of students, academics and business leaders.

The organization is all about encouraging the work of student entrepreneurs, with a focus on assisting developing countries and building sustainable communities.

Winners from the regional competitions will go on to showcase their work at the National Exposition in Toronto this May. 

Before the final competition, Mehta and her team are hard at work to improve their design so it's automated, solar-powered, and able to pump out at least 20 litres of drinking water in a single day.

It currently costs upwards of $250 to make a single machine, but the design team is hoping to reduce that to $100.

The Aqua Caelum is one of three projects Mehta's team will present at the upcoming competition, which kicks off in Calgary next month.

More than 20 Enactus teams from universities across western Canada will be competing in four team-based competitions focused on financial education, environmental sustainability, youth empowerment and entrepreneurship at the regional event.

Ticket to India 

Beyond the competition, Mehta and her team are committed to making their idea work in the real world. They plan to travel to Bangalore, India, this summer to put their prototype to the test.

They've been building relationships with businesses and hope to partner with local governments in order to bring the system online across the sprawling city, Mehta said.

"We concluded that Bangalore is the most in need of this because by 2020, more than 10 million people won't be able to live there," she said, citing critical water shortages in the city. She says it currently relies on water tankers or polluted water. 

"Their humidity levels are high enough for us to use this product over there, and make this solution better than ever."