Australia one step closer to solving global water challenge

Friday, 23 March 2018


Pioneering research team Hydro Harvest Operation from the University of Newcastle (UON) have today been announced as the only Australian team to reach the finals of a worldwide XPRIZE competition, set to solve the planet’s global water shortage crisis.

Clockwise from back, Dr Priscilla Tremain, Dr Andrew Maddocks, Dr Cheng Zhou, Professor Behdad Moghtaderi and Associate Professor Elham Doroodchi

The prestigious US$1.75 million Water Abundance XPRIZE powered by Tata Group and Australian Aid is a two-year competition which challenges teams to create decentralised access to water, with a goal to give people the power to access fresh water wherever it is needed.

Teams must create a device that extracts a minimum of 2000 litres of water per day from the atmosphere using 100 percent renewable energy at a cost of no more than two cents per litre.

Led by Professor Behdad Moghtaderi from UON’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), the Hydro Harvest Operation team have been working tirelessly to develop a low-cost energy-efficient prototype capable of converting the air’s humidity into drinkable water.

“We went into the competition wanting to keep the technology as simple as possible to ensure it would have worldwide applications, especially for developing countries.

“Atmospheric water generators are usually based on refrigeration cycles that cool the air to below the dew point, the point at which condensation will form. We’re turning that idea on its head. Our process is based on heating the air, not cooling.

“The first step is to absorb water at night using a desiccant. Then we use solar energy during the day to produce hot, humid air that can then be cooled. The hotter the air, the more water it’s going to hold and then by cooling that hot air, we get water back,” Professor Moghtaderi said.

The modular, environmentally friendly technology can work anywhere without being bound to climate, signifying the potential to transform the future of water generation around the world.

“There are no fancy materials – it’s purely looking at how air holds water and how that changes with temperature, and then how we can engineer a solution based on those known properties,” team member Associate Professor Elham Doroodchi explained.

“We are thrilled to have been selected to move forward into the Water Abundance XPRIZE finals. It feels great to be representing our country as we have been working incredibly hard to turn our simple idea into a viable reality. Even if we don’t win, we will pursue the idea to ensure greater access to water for all.”

Hydro Harvest Operation will join four teams from India, USA and the UK in the competition’s finale, with the grand prize winner to be announced in August 2018. Of the initial 98 teams who entered the two-year, global competition, only four were from Australia.

Professor Kevin Hall, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), said Hydro Harvest Operation’s work was in line with UON’s strong commitment to offering solutions to some of the globe’s greatest challenges.

“To reach the final round of such a competitive initiative speaks to the calibre of the Hydro Harvest Operation team.

“UON has an impressive track record of engineering solutions for complex global challenges and this is yet another example of our researchers excelling on a global stage,” Professor Hall said.

Team Hydro Harvest Operation is comprised of Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, Associate Professor Elham Doroodchi, Dr Andrew Maddocks, Dr Priscilla Tremain and Dr Cheng Zhou, working under UON’s newly established Global Impact Cluster for Energy, Resources, Food and Water.