Apple announces iPhone 6, Apple Watch

Air HES system to collect water and generate electricity from the clouds


August 27, 2014

According to the designers, they have produced and flown a scale prototype of the blimp

According to the designers, they have produced and flown a scale prototype of the blimp

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Using a tethered airship floating high up among the clouds, the Air HES concept is designed to yield both clean water and electricity by harvesting and condensing water vapor, which it uses to spin up an electric turbine generator to create power. The developers behind the concept claim to have built a prototype to test their theory and have also conducted feasibility studies into upping the scale of their device to produce economically viable levels of water and power.

Using three proven technologies – water vapor condensers, hydroelectric generators, and airships – the Air HES (HydroElectric Station) is planned to be released up to a level of around 7,000 ft (2,100 m) to reach the mid-level clouds in the troposphere. Once there, it will use a large curtain of vapor-condensing mesh (similar to the system developed by MIT) to collect water.

The water collected from this process will then be released down a lightweight pipe attached to the balloon, where it will provide a significant head of pressure on its way to the ground. Large enough, the creators say, to provide more than enough energy to rotate the turbine on an electric generator and generate electricity.

The designers say they have produced and flown a scale prototype of the blimp and water collection system, which they claim produced around 4 L (1.05 gal) of water per hour for each square meter of mesh at 4,000 ft (1,200 m). The hydroelectric system planned for use on the system was not tested in this instance, though the creators do state that they have secured a Russian patent for the concept.

The Air HES can also collect fog closer to the ground

They are now working toward constructing a full-size, fully functional prototype of the complete system, and one that will be large enough to produce significant amounts of water and electricity. The team calculates that as a balloon 60 ft (18 m) in diameter yields around 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) of lift, this will be more than a sufficient size to carry the expected weight of the vertical tether and the water load collected.

At this size, the team says that power output – based on water collected per square meter of surface area – will produces around 1.8 kW of electrical power for every 10 liters (2.6 gal) per square meter of surface area. Given the team's ultimate goal of a 1,000 square meter (10,700 sq ft) mesh collection area, this would supposedly produce anything up to 185 kW, provided the predicted collection rates and energy conversion figures are correct.

To get the full-size system off the ground, the team has floated a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, aiming to raise US$14,000 to build a working prototype. After the first prototype is operating, tested, and proven, the team hopes to attract further business investment to make the Air HES system a viable commercial proposition. This will then allow team members to pursue other proposed advances of their technology, including a kite-based variety for use as an emergency drinking water solution.

As such, the Air HES team also believes that its aerial system may provide other advantages, including ease of mobility and deployment on an as-needed basis for emergency power or drinking water, along with the possibility of using the flight platform to raise antenna systems for communications in remote areas.

No timeline has been provided for the release of a full-sized operational system, but the team has provided a comprehensive feasibility study (PDF) of the system.

The video below is the team’s Indiegogo pitch that shows the prototype in action.

Source: Air HES

Update (29, Aug. 2014): This story originally stated that the system will produce "around 1.8 kW of electrical power per day for every 10 liters (2.6 gal) per square meter of surface area." A number of commenters have pointed out that this is the incorrect unit of measurement for electrical power generation over time and has been removed. We apologize for the error and thanks to the commenters for pointing it out. We've also contacted the development team for more information on the projected power generation capabilities of the system – Ed.

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey

And where are they going to fly this thing? Even the prototype requires civil aviation clearance and will require things like aviation warning beacons and some form of self destruct should it break loose from its tether.

A full sized one will require inspection and approval and be very limited to where it can be used.

The US$14,000 that they are trying to get for the prototype might just get the approvals necessary to get one up in the air then they have the cost of building it on top of that.

27th August, 2014 @ 04:33 am PDT

they will fly it...where they are allowed to. the logistics aren't as difficult as the skeptics like to make it sound like. very limited? i guess you could give more info on why you think very limited...and i'll leave it at that.

this is an incredibly insightful idea..even if it doesn't 'get off the ground'


27th August, 2014 @ 10:19 am PDT

Biiiiig problem with this: Clouds reflect solar energy back into space before it heats the surface. Global warming is real, and a technology like this, if widely used, would make it worse.

27th August, 2014 @ 12:34 pm PDT

Stop making designs that are using up the helium.

Soon there will be no way to use them.

The Hoff
27th August, 2014 @ 03:57 pm PDT

I wonder at the impact of a 'desert' environment suburb in any dry state - say, outer Las Vegas for instance - flying a hundred or so of these, trying to get power and water for 'free'?

I can see lawsuits aplenty from people 'downstream' wanting their cloud back, as even a single one of these must affect the cloud from which it is stripping all that moisture for the water.

The Skud
27th August, 2014 @ 07:01 pm PDT

Considering just how scarce water is becoming globally, this has to be considered and if necessary, the rules altered to support deployment. seeing as they are unmanned, hydrogen can be used instead of helium, which is becoming very scarce.

As for climate change, what a pity we have wasted so much time claiming it was all a hoax so that the fossil fuel industry could continue to make profits, and 'earn' their bonuses. We need to find a way of making those guilty of promoting that hoax meme donate all their wealth into a fund to help future generations cope, if they can. We owe them that much at least.

Mel Tisdale
28th August, 2014 @ 08:53 am PDT

It's messing with the weather (cycles) not a fan of this idea.. capturing roof run off.. now that's the one I have been thinking of, as I live in Florida and rain is almost a daily thing.

Jay Finke
28th August, 2014 @ 10:08 am PDT

"1.8 kW of electrical power per day"

Dear Author,

This does not make sense. If it generates 1.8 kW, that is a continuous rating as a 1 W = 1 J/s. That is, time is already included.

You can say 1.8 kWh per day, but not what you wrote.

Don't feel bad - I see this mistake all the time from technical journalists who didn't learn about units properly.

Mark Windsor
28th August, 2014 @ 10:20 am PDT

Pieces of this idea seem lunatic, such as using helium but other pieces are achievable and commendable. Either way I would like to see this tried out. Some years ago someone tried to re-establish the cedar forests that covered Lebanon until the Romans mined the forest out. The Romans realized their mistake but lacked the conviction to try to reverse the damage. In the recent effort the Israelis threatened war because they felt a reforested Lebanon would hide rockets. However the early stages of reforesting DID work and showed promise for scaling up to all of Lebanon. The same level of conviction is needed here. I can see this working on otherwise dry sea coasts, i.e. India, West Africa, Somalia, and Eritrea. These areas could become a garden for fruit, coffee and chocolate export production.

28th August, 2014 @ 10:35 am PDT

I wish they would at least get their units right. kW per day is nonsense, since kW is already a unit of power flow per time. Also, the "for every 10 liters (2.6 gal) per square meter of surface area" makes no sense. It would be per liter that comes down, regardless of how many square meters it took to collect those liters.

Where in this article does it mention using helium? Seems people are trying to find problems in this project that aren't even there. Besides, this is a MUCH better use for helium than the balloons they sell in stores. If not for something as valuable as this project, what are we saving helium for? Besides, there are 2 other options: hydrogen, and rigid structure containing a vacuum. Yes, that has been developed.

As for aviation clearance, I am sure that they could declare a no-fly zone. We have them all over the place. Besides, planes normally fly well over 7,000 feet. Besides that, if water is very scarce in an area, I would take water over flying anytime. If nothing else, this could be very useful in underdeveloped countries that have little air traffic and where water is desperately needed.

As for increasing global warming:

A) Most clouds (about 90%) actually increase it by reflecting heat back down.

B) These things would make a pinprick in the clouds

C) This could probably work in any humid air, not just where there are actual clouds.

As for the idea that this is "stealing" water downstream, that is pretty silly.

A) The percentage of the water that these could take out of the air is tiny. The effect on rainfall "downstream" could not even be measured.

B) Very little of the water that falls as rain is utilized. These things would usefully capture all the water they take, compared to a few percent of the rain that is utilized.

C) It would take an idiot in government to try to block this on that basis. Nobody would be that dumb. Opps, what am I saying?

All told, this looks like a very good idea IF it can be made to work. THAT is the big question. A new source of renewable water PLUS renewable energy could save lives in the global warming Hell we are creating.

28th August, 2014 @ 03:31 pm PDT

The article says: "... understand would supposedly produce anything up to 185 kW per day, provided the predicted collection rates and energy conversion figures are correct."

I wish to fuss about the widespread misuse of KW.... i.e. kilowatts - a unit of power - when the subject is energy, which, for electricity is measured in KWH - kilowatt-hours. Your electric bill is for the kwh you used that month. There is no such thing as a system "producing 185 kW per day." That is like saying "my car produces 150 hp per mile." Makes no sense, right?

If that balloon produced 185 kwh in 24 hours, that is pretty good. Better than any residential roof top solar array. A large air conditioned house on a hot day can consume 185kwh each day, producing an electric bill (in Texas) of about $500 a month.

Bruce Warren
28th August, 2014 @ 04:19 pm PDT

Saying it "produces 1.8 KW per day" is like saying my car "produces 300 horsepower per hour". They've got the units wrong.

This is very very common. As common as people spelling "lose" (opposite of find) as "loose" (opposite of tight).

28th August, 2014 @ 06:06 pm PDT

Regardless of the points about using up Helium, airspace concerns, cloud depletion, etc, what about the ultimate arbiter of success of such a system, i.e. the cost/benefit ratio? How much human energy as well as materials costs will be going into these things versus how much power they may actually produce? I can see this as being yet another boondoggle that will require massive amounts of tax credits, government subsidies, cooked books and who knows what else to keep it going while somebody siphons a fat paycheck out of the coffers. Solyndra comes to mind here.

From a comprehensive energy audit of the nuclear power industry (taking into account ALL of the factors involved in the process from beginning to end) back in the 1990s, it was learned that we would have used up LESS petroleum fuel by just burning it in power plants instead of creating the nuclear power industry!! So the only logical conclusion to be drawn was that the nuke plants were built with the idea of making materials for bombs! So what can we learn from THAT screw up? How about thinking about what we're planning on doing BEFORE we do it?


Expanded Viewpoint
29th August, 2014 @ 07:28 am PDT

@ The Hoff

The cost of harvesting helium out of the atmosphere is not cost prohibitive except that it is significantly more expensive than refining it from natural gas. Therefor we are not going to run out of helium.

@ Expanded Viewpoint

You Anti nuclear study was very badly flawed.

2nd September, 2014 @ 01:17 pm PDT
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