How to be a moisture farmer

For human civilization to survive, people must have access to the three basics: Food, water and shelter.

Advanced building materials have evolved over millennia to take care of the shelter part. In recent years, however, new breakthroughs in materials science have made it possible for our shelter materials to provide a limited amount of clean drinking water as well.

Here are three new applications — one conceptual, one an art project and one already in place — that demonstrate the potential for buildings of the future to pull water literally out of thin air, proving that, even in a desert community, life-giving moisture can be found in unexpected places.

Perú’s capital city, Lima, is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, which keeps the coastal air sopping wet, with 90 percent relative humidity for most of the year. Yet, due to a quirk of geography, the 8.5 million residents of Lima are located within one of the driest regions on Earth, receiving less than an inch of rain each year. Groundwater sources are overtapped and critically low, so some engineers at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) have worked on some clever ways to convert the moist air into drinking water.

Their demonstration project, oddly enough, is a conventional highway advertising billboard. UTEC researchers, working with ad agency and billboard owner, Mayo DraftFCB, installed a condenser, a reverse osmosis filter, an activated-carbon filter and storage tanks to pull moisture out of the air as it flows past the board.

In its first three months, the billboard produced roughly 2,600 gallons of clean, drinkable water, which is accessible for the people of Lima’s Bujama District via a spigot at the base of the tower. UTEC hopes the project can be replicated in dozens of other sites in the region where water is scarce. The blight of corporate advertising has never looked so attractive.


Taking the Lima idea to a much larger scale, American architecture students Yeonkyu Park, Kwon Han, Hyeyeon Kwon, and Hojeong Lim submitted a proposal to bring coastal fog from the west coast of Chile and drawing it through the Andes Mountains to the parched Atacama Desert.


Their Mist Tree Tower design, which won an honorable mention in this year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition, include a series of giant circular mesh openings embedded in the cooler, wetter western side of the Andes Mountains. The mesh would capture the “Camanchaca,” the local name for the thick fog than hangs along the Pacific Coast but is blocked by the mountains.

* Randy Woods, EarthTechling