SKYWELL: 2013/14 WINNER
Skywell was one of 668 entries in Season One (2013-14) of the competition. It clearly impressed the judges, who selected it as the winner at the finals in the Netherlands in May.
For Sami, Charles and Al-Hurr it was the perfect ending to a long and rewarding journey of learning and discovery.
"It's been a very positive experience" says Sami. "It's given us the opportunity to do a lot of things for the first time. We've had to take the idea all the way from initial proposal to presenting it to, and fielding questions from, a panel of expert judges at the finals."
How and why is your idea innovative?
Harvesting dew (humidity) to use as drinking water is not a new thing. In fact, it has been used as a survival technique by desert-going Bedouins for millennia to replenish water reserves. However, up until recently, humidity harvesting has mostly been performed on the small-scale, primarily by nomadic travelers, with only few examples of the technique being applied on a large-scale in just the last five to ten years. Where our idea truly distinguishes itself then is in its simple design and proposed application to collect dew on a large-scale in a permanent location.
To do this cheaply, we want to use sails as large condensing surfaces to provide communities without easy access to clean water a stable supply of this precious resource. We are interested in improving the efficiency of the surface by exploring the benefits of using hydrophobic (water-repelling) coats, and perhaps endothermic (heat-absorbing) salts. The target goal is to design a kit that is easy and quick to assemble, to deliver a positive impact to a lot of people within a short space of time.
How and why is your idea feasible?
Our validation and proof-of-concept came from the pioneers and ongoing initiatives in this space, who have reported encouraging numbers for the water volumes they were able to obtain on the small-scale. Moreover, they have also started to understand what conditions perform better when varying variables such as relative humidity and day-night temperature differentials. These early efforts have given us confidence that the underlying technique of humidity condensation works.
From a design and economic stand-point, the decision to use sails was our solution to keep unit costs low, while still being able to place the surface areas needed to collect significant amounts of water. Preliminary price estimates look promising. Therefore, the idea should be feasible in both its fundamental physics, and economics.
What impact does your idea have on the Stress Nexus (Energy/Food/Water)?
Skywell is primarily intended to be used as a source of drinking water for people either living in dry regions, or who do not have easy access to clean water. Because humidity is ever-present in the air, the device can be placed in close vicinity to the local community, cutting down on commutes to current wells. Skywell is expected to function in many regions of the world that already possess appropriate conditions for dew formation, such as in Australia, South Asia and the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, Central America (California, Texas, Mexico) and South America.
A second application sees the device used by farmers as a water reserve that fills over time. Should a drought season hit, the farmer could then use the reserve as a buffer to weather the hard times and save their food produce. Therefore, depending on the application, our idea can alleviate both drinking water shortages and food stressors.
What benefits will your idea deliver (financial, socio-economic, environmental, political etc)?
By acting as a stable source of drinking water, Skywell will attempt to improve the standards of living and quality of life of populations still struggling to secure such basic needs. We hope the device will give the people more free time, otherwise spent travelling to a river or well, allowing them to pursue their education or take up a trade that opens opportunities to improve their socio-economic status.
In the case of farmers, the goal is to provide them with assurance that they will be able to save their food produce if irregular rainfall patterns were to materialize. As a result, they will incur less risk when growing their crops, and will become more financially stable. Down the chain, markets and consumers should benefit too from less variability in food supplies.
Finally, Skywell is a passive and sustainable system, and can only have a positive environmental impact. The long-term vision sees the device and other humidity collection techniques as a means to growing plants in places where it would otherwise be difficult, which could serve as a pathway to gradual land reclamation.