How Manufacturing Water Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, a staff writer here at Howstuffworks.com. With me is arguably the greatest writer of the entire site, Mr. Charles Bryant.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: How are you, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: I am great. And I am a great writer, yes, thank you.

Josh Clark: Hats to off your self-confidence there, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Thanks.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, we have a huge problem, and by we, I mean you and I and the rest of the human population on the planet right now.

Chuck Bryant: We do.

Josh Clark: We are having trouble with water; with safe, clean drinking water. The United Nations published a report a year or two back and they found that 20 percent of the global population doesn't have access to safe drinking water and they may have, like, a river nearby but it could be polluted.

Chuck Bryant: Right. I know, it's sad!

Josh Clark: I know China has got a big problem with e-waste right now and high levels of lead and mercury; Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk to a tenth of its size in the last 40 years so water is running out and it's actually becoming a problem in the developed nations as well. With this problem of water and water being such a simple compound of just oxygen and hydrogen, why don't we just make it?

Chuck Bryant: Right. That's a great idea and you would think that with all the technology we have today, we could just kind of throw it in a big kitchen aid and mix it up and have a spigot at the other end, but it's not as easy as that. You can't just mix them up. In order to combine these two compounds - compounds?

Josh Clark: Molecules.

Chuck Bryant: Molecules.

Josh Clark: Close.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. You have to have a big burst of energy and that potentially could be really dangerous.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, it causes an explosion.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You have to entangle the orbits of their electrons and, yeah, it can be - like you said, very dangerous. So, I don't think it's so dangerous that it could never happen. I mean, we humans are pretty ingenious but we can't do it right now.

Chuck Bryant: No, but there's other solutions. There are - and I know when you were researching you found these other inventions that people have been able to pull water from the atmosphere.

Josh Clark: Yeah, pretty much water right out of thin air.

Chuck Bryant: Right, kind of like a big dehumidifier.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and which you said that you do - you use a dehumidifier in your basement to water your plants?

Chuck Bryant: I do. I have it hooked up to a hose and here in Atlanta we're under a drought so we use our water to water our house plants.

Josh Clark: We need to get you some Birkenstocks.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's a great idea.

Josh Clark: So, you want to talk about aquamagic there, Chuck, which I've got to say, I can't tell which one of these two inventions I like more.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I like the other one better but I'll tell you about aquamagic. Aqua magic is these two guys invented this - you tow it behind a car like a trailer and it basically just pulls all the water from the atmosphere and - how much does it make per hour?

Josh Clark: It makes a 120 gallons of purified drinking water in 24 hours.

Chuck Bryant: Twenty-four hours which is pretty good?

Josh Clark: Significant.

Chuck Bryant: But the problem though is it runs on fuel.

Josh Clark: Yeah, like 12 gallons of diesel fuel for that.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And emissions and - so, it's not exactly the best solution.

Josh Clark: But the thing is, it's portable. They debuted this thing at a relief site after Hurricane Katrina and really, once your house is under 10, 12 feet of water, you really don't care about the C02 emissions. You just want the clean drinking water so it definitely has its benefits. The other invention that I came up with when I was researching this is the Whisson Windmill.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, this one is really cool.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it's named - what is it?

Chuck Bryant: Well, he named it Max Water, which all inventors have their cute little names.

Josh Clark: And that is a cute one, too.

Chuck Bryant: It is.

Josh Clark: So, this thing is kind of similar except it has the advantage of being totally green. It doesn't use any fossil fuels.

Chuck Bryant: They painted it green?

Josh Clark: No, no, it's the real kind. The new hip green!

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I gotcha.

Josh Clark: Yeah, yeah, the eco-friendly Macy's one-day sale, get a free tote bag green. That kind of green! So, the whole thing runs exclusively on wind power and basically it uses a refrigerant to cool the blades of the windmill which causes the water in the air to condense, it collects it and there you have it. And it actually produces a lot more. I think something like 2,600 gallons -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, per day.

Josh Clark: - per day. The problem is, is we have no idea what the impact would be on the water cycle, you know, the rain cycle if we started using these widespread, across the globe to address drinking water.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And I don't know they could really project what could happen either, you know, large scale.

Josh Clark: No, we can't, which is kind of seen in that British project from 1952 that you know about, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah the Cloud Seating!

Josh Clark: Yeah, Operation Cumulus.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's crazy and I think post World War II they found out if they flew above the clouds and threw a bunch of silver iodide and dries and salt, they would actually make it rain.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they were trying to rain out enemy front.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And it worked really, really well.

Josh Clark: It worked a little too well, didn't it?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So, basically this poor place called North Devon which was near the site of the Cloud Seating, experienced 250 times the normal amount of rain in two weeks.

Chuck Bryant: That's nuts.

Josh Clark: Thirty-five people died; damns broke; boulders broke -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and that was the end of the experiment.

Josh Clark: Sadly, yes. It's a testimony to how humans really shouldn't tamper with nature.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: If you want to find out more about nature and manufacturing water and the like, read, Why Can't we Manufacture Water, on Howstuffworks.com.

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