David Hertz and Laura Doss-Hertz are big winners. The couple won a $1.5 million XPrize for their water collection invention. David had learned that under the right conditions, it was possible to collect water directly from the air. He set up a modest little contraption on the roof of his office building. Almost right away, it began cranking out bottles of water.
So he and Laura thought bigger. They developed a system using shipping containers and wood chips or other organic debris. The bigger, better system produces up to 528 gallons of water daily at less than two cents per quart.
Then Hertz learned that an XPrize award would be offered for a cheap, innovative way to produce clean freshwater. He was all in.
The XPrize competition was created by a group of philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and others. It has awarded more than $140 million over the years for what it calls audacious, futuristic ideas that protect and improve planet Earth. The first XPrize given went to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aviation pioneer Burt Rutan in 2004. They won for SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned space flight.
When Hertz got started, his little rooftop water-making machine cranked out about 150 gallons per day. He gave it away to homeless people living near his Studio of Environmental Architecture in Venice Beach, California. Then he, Laura, and partner Richard Groden—who worked on that first machine—formed The Skysource/Skywater Alliance. Their new system heats wood chips to produce the temperature and humidity needed to create little rainstorms inside shipping containers. Shipping containers are abundant, Hertz says. And if there are no wood chips to be found, coconut husks, rice, walnut shells, or even grass clippings will work.
Water systems expert Matthew Stuber was one of the XPrize panel judges. Anywhere in the world where there is an available source of starter material, Stuber says, “This is going to be a very simple technology to deploy.”
Stuber envisions the water-making machine as a quick solution for shortages due to natural disasters, drought, or contamination of natural waterways or reservoirs.
The XPrize competition drew 98 teams from 27 countries. The Skysource team made it into the top five only after another dropped out. But with their surprise victory, the water-makers are now in for the long haul. XPrize winners are not required to use the prize money for further development of the winning idea—but David and Laura agreed that’s what they would do. “Laura and I have committed to using it all…to get [water machines] to people who need the water most,” Hertz says.