Device that harvests water from thin air wins the James Dyson Award


November 11, 2011

Edward Linacre has won the 2011 James Dyson Award for his Airdrop irrigation concept

Edward Linacre has won the 2011 James Dyson Award for his Airdrop irrigation concept

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Young Melbourne-based inventor Edward Linacre has won the 2011 James Dyson Award, making it the second year in a row where the prestigious prize has gone to an Aussie. Linacre stole this year's competition with his Airdrop irrigation concept that collects water from thin air. The Swinburne University of Technology design graduate was driven to transform an ancient cooling technique into a new sub-surface irrigation system, following the enduring Australian drought that saw high levels of farmer suicide along Australia's Murray- Darling Basin.

The Airdrop irrigation concept is a low-tech design that uses the simple process of condensation to harvest water from the air. Utilizing a turbine intake system, air is channeled underground through a network of piping that quickly cools the air to soil temperature. This process creates an environment of 100-percent humidity, from which water is then harvested. The collected water is stored in an underground tank, ready to be pumped out via sub-surface drip irrigation hosing. The Airdrop design also features an LCD screen displaying water levels, pressure strength, solar battery life and system health.

"The one that I made in the backyard at mum's house was creating about a liter of water a day," Linacre told Gizmag. Although the backyard trial was successful on a small scale, Linacre did prove that it could be implemented on a large agricultural scale. "The low-tech solution is perfect for rural farmers," explained Linacre. "[It's] something they can install, something they can maintain ... taking water out of the air and irrigating their crops."

The James Dyson Award is an international competition that attracts designs and inventions from young creators all over the world. As the winner, Linacre will receive GBP10,000 (US$14,000), with a further GBP10,000 (US$14,000) going to Swinburne's Faculty of Design.

Edward described the Airdrop system to Gizmag at the Australian Design Awards, in a video that we shot earlier this year.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

Great emphasis on the lo-tech easily maintained and repaired solution. Unlike this popularized concept:

David Couch

There have been other products, including some on the market for using solar power to run refrigeration systems to condense water from air. The two factors of efficiency--amount of water produced--vs. price and simplicity of maintenance mean there could be several niches for water harvesters depending on the economy and investment climate of the community in question.

I hope this method is as promising as he feels it is. It is worth bearing in mind that when a new and improved solar cell is developed, it should not only be judged on whether it will be economical for solar cell farms attached to the grid but also on whether it can provide more power at less cost to off-grid systems and devices like these.

Cymon Curcumin

It would also be usful to pair this with a subsurface moisture barrier beneath the irrigation since deserts often lose more water downwards that through evaporation.

Cymon Curcumin

I can see this working in hot humid conditions assuming the ground temperature doesn\'t rise too high but what about hot dry conditions?


It would only work until the surrounding soil heated up, and the vapour ceased to condense.

Places like the New York and London underground railways were originally cool, but they have become hot and sweltering as the years pass, as energy is pumped in from bodies and trains.

I imagine the efficiency of the Airdrop would quickly fall with use.


What an excellent idea! This reminds me of the water harvesters in Star Wars that the young Luke Skywalker had to tend for his family.

Carlos Grados

This has been done already a long time ago by uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in a galaxy far far way.

Peter Dawson

How much copper or aluminum will be needed per acre for the heat exchangers?

Max Orbit

This is brilliant but could I suggest constructing the reservoir so it is the same diameter as the rest of the tube? Then the whole tube could be simply lowered into a hole dug by a post hole auger instead of the present design that requires a much larger diameter 2 meter deep hole

Paul Harrison

Am I the only one that sees that removing water from the air increases the area of the rain shadow.


lets just hope he changes from copper...because thats one expensive solution with coppers prices. theres a reason why wires are stolen from railway lines....

Mark Penver

this is brilliant and low tech. I want one for the back yard.


Would this work on Mars?

Chris Clarke

Calcium Chloride has been used for centuries to pull water out of the air. It facilitates extraction at low relative humidity. There is a known relationship between RH, temperature, and the rate at which CaCl2 pulls water out of the air. CaCl2 can be used to extract water in desert areas, and solar energy can be used to distill the water from the CaCl2, which will absorb more water the next cycle. Using temperature fluctuations in the desert (midday to near dawn), approximately 1 liter per sq meter of insolation is readily achievable. I\'d like to see a hybrid system using the referenced design and CaCl2.

Ray Phoenix

This will be a great idea, as long as people don\'t have to make the trip to Toshi Station for replacement parts. ;)

Gregg Eshelman

seems to me that as long as the plastics are food safe this could be used to produce water for drinking as well. could you construct a giant one capable of servicing a family or even a village? for areas where a conventional well isn\'t possible.

Samantha Renault

This is a very good idea ,that is only if you are in the right climate zone for it to work.

What happens to the device when it is in a climate that freezes either seasonally or even at night ? Would it still work? In winter time once the frost is in the ground ,I would think that it would just freeze up and stop working unless the device is planted much deeper below the frost level. In winter time the air is also much drier and therefore less moisture to be had until the relative humidity comes up and the temperature gets above freezing.

What about dry arid places like deserts ? The moisture content of the air in arid places is even less than in the frozen winter time of other climates. I suppose that if it ran long enough and the ground temperature was cool enough at ???? depth then it could extract water.

What about pairing the solar power panel with a rechargeable battery within the unit ?? It could run through the night in arid climates when the ambient air temperature drops and the relative humidity typically goes up so it would work faster and collect more without the competition of the sun\'s heat.

Jim Andrews

Will serve in emergency situations.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Paul Harrison- I also wonder if a device like this or others ( could work on Mars. I know that it has an atmosphere to make the idea possible, but as also posted above, what happens to these devices if it freezes?

Jacob Hamar

In 1966, D.S. Halacy, Jr. wrote a book entitled \"The Water Crisis\". In the fifth century before Christ, the ancient city of Theodosia precipitated an estimated 800,000 gallons of water per day, using a number of \"aerial wells\"--about 80 feet by 100 feet, and about 30 feet high. The cross-section was pyramid shaped, made of rocks. The sides were covered with soil and sod to keep the rocks cool during the day. The ends were open and oriented away from the sun. At night, moisture-laden air circulated through the pyramids, condensing water. Better use can be made of irrigation water these days by underground watering--watering plant roots only, a system I invented in the 1960s. Origo1


I like it very much ; I dream how to collect water from air .

Babu Tamang

Its a shame plants dont like copper ions with all that copper condensing the water vapor. Nice try though. I agree with previous comments; why make the tank a different shape from the main body? It just makes it difficult to get it put in the ground.

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