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Tel Aviv's air is drinkable

There is no smoke without fire, money does not grow on trees, but water can be produced from... air! A first study of its kind in the world conducted at Tel Aviv University found that water extracted from the air in the heart of Tel Aviv met all the strict drinking water regulations of the State of Israel and the World Health Organization. Has the solution to the lack of drinking water in the world finally been found?

Water for drinking is like air for breathing

According to the researchers, thinking outside the box and developing new technologies for the production of drinking water are necessary to solve the worsening global shortage of proper drinking water. According to them, the Earth's atmosphere is a huge and renewable source of water: it contains billions of tons of water, 98% of which is in a gaseous state, that is, water vapor that may become drinking water.

In a study conducted by a team of experts from the hydrochemistry laboratory at the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences, led by Master's student Ofir Inbar and guided by Prof. Dror Avisher, the researchers tested the quality of the water, which was produced from the water vapor in the urban atmosphere characterized by industry and massive construction, using a dedicated facility of the Israeli Watergen company, and found that it was normal and suitable for drinking.

The research and development team of the Watergen company, Prof. Alexandra Chodnovsky and leading researchers from Germany also participated in the groundbreaking study. The results of the research were published in two leading journals: Science of the Total Environment and-Water.

Spirit flavored water

"This is the first study in the world that examines air pollution from a different angle: its effect on drinking water extracted from the air," explains Ofir Inbar. "We deliberately did not install any filtration and treatment system in the research device, meaning that the water produced is the water received from the air."

As part of the research, the researchers performed a wide range of advanced chemical analyses, and found in the vast majority of cases, in different seasons and at different times, that the water extracted from the air in the heart of Tel Aviv was safe to drink. In addition, with the help of a variety of innovative technologies for monitoring the composition of the atmosphere and the use of advanced statistical methods, the researchers were able to quantitatively link for the first time between the path that the air takes in the days before it arrives at the water extraction point and the chemical composition of the dew water.

"The research showed that the wind directions greatly affect the quality of the water. For example, when the wind comes from the desert, we find more calcium and sulfur in the water, that is, remnants of aerosols of desert dust in the water. On the other hand, when the wind comes from the direction of the sea, we find higher concentrations of chlorine and sodium that originate from the sea", Ophir explains. "In addition, we found that it is possible to identify in the water the distant sources from which the air arrived at the point of water production. For example, water produced from air that came from the Sahara region differs in composition from water produced from air that came from the European region."

Ofir Amber and Tel Aviv Atmosphere Water. Photo: Tel Aviv University
Ofir Amber and Tel Aviv Atmosphere Water. Photo: Tel Aviv University

Tel Aviv. Now also a source of clean water?

You should upgrade your vitamin and mineral intake

The researchers point out that water quality is also affected by anthropogenic pollution (effects of human activity on nature), which originates from transportation and industry. "Using advanced methods, we found a direct relationship between the concentrations of ammonia, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the air and the concentration of their decomposition products in the water. We found low concentrations of copper, potassium and zinc in the water, which apparently come from sources of human-made pollution," says Inbar.

"From a research point of view, the chemical link we made between the meteorological parameters and the composition of the water makes it possible for the first time to study the atmosphere using the water extracted from it. Environmentally, this link allows us to know what minerals should be added to the water extracted from the air, in order to provide quality drinking water to the residents. In general, we found that drinking water from air does not have enough calcium and magnesium, and that it is better to add them to the water as they add to desalinated drinking water in some countries."

Water is available and cheap

A significant part of the water we drink today in Israel is desalinated sea water. According to Inbar, this solution is only partial and cannot provide drinking water to the absolute majority of the world's population. "In order to pray with sea water, you need a sea, and not everywhere in the world there is access to the sea," he says. "It must be remembered that after the desalination, a complete infrastructure must be built to transport the desalinated water from the water line to the various localities, and in large parts of the world there are no engineering and economic means to build and maintain such an infrastructure."

"On the other hand, water from the air can be produced anywhere, without the need for expensive transport infrastructure and without taking into account the amount of precipitation. Economically, producing water from the air is more profitable the higher the temperatures and humidity. The fear was that water extracted from the air in the heart of an urban area would not be suitable for drinking, and we have proven that this is not true," concludes Inbar. "These days we are expanding the research to other areas in Israel, including the Haifa Bay and agricultural areas, in order to investigate in depth the effect of various pollutants on the quality of water extracted from the air."

It should be noted that a device for extracting water from the air with water purification and treatment systems is already found in a large number of countries in the world, providing high-quality drinking water to residents in distressed areas.

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