SUNTOWATER PLANS TO START MANUFACTURING IN 2017
Living off the grid doesn’t just mean electricity anymore. Carrollton-based SunToWater has perfected a new device that harnesses the moisture in the air and converts it into drinking water.
The company expects to start manufacturing residential water generators in 2017 that can produce 40 gallons of water per day.
Benjamin Blumenthal, co-founder and CEO of SunToWater, said the long-term goal is to make clean water accessible for everyone. But for now, the plan is to market it to homeowners in Texas and California first, then the world. Larger industrial or commercial units could start production after that.
“Like a solar panel can take a home off the power grid, our water generators can take a home off the water grid, in part or in whole,” Blumenthal said. “We believe that’s very important. Clean water is an absolute necessity.”
The generator looks like an air conditioner unit and would typically be set up right next to it in the yard. For homeowners, one unit costs about $9,000, though early adopters could get a discount. The generator fills a water tank, which is typically buried in the yard.
HOW IT WORKS
While it may sound like something out of a science fiction movie — Luke Skywalker uses moisture vaporators to harvest water on the desert planet of Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope — the science behind this is real and actually fairly simple.
At night, fans pull air into the generator and run it over a salty material, which absorbs only the pure water molecules. The salt becomes a slurry with a consistency similar to a Slurpee from 7-Eleven. The air and any contamination or pollution is forced out.
As the sun comes up in the morning, solar thermal panels heat up, generating heat that warms the salty mixture. The water separates from the salt as it becomes humid air.
The humid air goes through a condenser that cools it back down until it reaches liquid form. At this point, it’s distilled water.
The final step is remineralization, which adds the minerals that make it healthy for human consumption.
The water generator can be hooked directly into the water supply, the swimming pool, or the sprinkler system. Multiple units can be stacked on top of each other. And the unit can run off solar power, a power generator, or connected to the electric grid. In the case of solar, batteries are used to store the power during the day to run the water generator at night.
Historically, these types of water generators have used refrigerant to jump-start the process, which is extremely inefficient and not cost effective, Blumenthal said.
“We’ve totally revolutionized the way the extraction of water out of the air can happen.”
“We’ve totally revolutionized the way the extraction of water out of the air can happen,” he said. “Instead of moving fluid through a high friction coil, let’s move the air by using small fans. That uses 70 percent less power and the water is there for four or five times less expensive. It also enables for the first time ever for solar only to be a possibility.”
HARVESTING WATER IN THE DESERT
It’s easy to imagine this water generator working in Miami or Houston where the air’s so thick you can feel the humidity. But, Blumenthal said so much of the research from the last three years went into developing the software that would make this water generator work even in the driest climate.
The software measures the temperature, humidity, and other factors and adjusts the speed of the fans accordingly so the right amount of air comes in and water gets produced.
“The unit is designed to compensate for fluctuations in the relative humidity of the air,” he said.
They even tested it in an artificial environment with 14 percent humidity, which is dryer than the driest place in Africa.
“We’re going to save lives on a tremendous scale.”
While SunToWater will first market this to the affluent Tesla and solar crowd, the long-term goal is to get water generators to disaster-stricken areas, third-world countries, arid regions, and the U.S. military.
“We’re going to save lives on a tremendous scale,” Blumenthal said. “Every home and every business can make all the water that they need from the air and sun over their roof. That’s the next level of thinking when it comes to water.”
GROWING THE BUSINESS
SunToWater actually spun out of Flextronics, which first conceived of the idea, but needed a smaller company to make it commercially viable, Blumenthal said. He and two other co-founders started the company in early 2013. The headquarters is in Carrollton and there’s a second office in Palo Alto, California.
The startup has about 20 employees split between the two locations. It has the backing of Flextronics, a publicly traded company with manufacturing facilities across the globe.
SunToWater just completed its first Series A-1 round of funding by securing $2.6 million in private equity. On Sept. 1, the company will open Series A-2 funding that will finance manufacturing and delivery of the water generators. That round is scheduled to close on Dec. 1.
The company hasn’t decided where it will build the water generators, yet. Blumenthal said he’s hopeful to receive tax credits and subsidies, similar to what was given to the solar and wind industries to help them get established. That could be a big factor in deciding where SunToWater will manufacture the devices.
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