A greenhouse effect that works!

A method of producing fresh water from seawater has received a boost with a UK NESTA Invention and Innovation award of £75,000.

A method of producing fresh water from seawater, which could have a major impact on the driest places on earth, has received a boost with a NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) Invention and Innovation award of £75,000.

Charlie Paton, a former lighting engineer from London, will develop his idea – The Watermaker – a low cost method of condensing fresh water from air that has been made humid with seawater. He will also improve upon his already successfully tested, Seawater Greenhouse, which could efficiently produce food and water in arid coastal regions that are home to much of the world’s population.

The inspiration for the greenhouse first came to Charlie whilst on holiday in Morocco when he was travelling on a hot, humid bus in the rain. After waking from a nap he noticed that the towel he had been leaning on against the window of the bus was soaking wet and had to be wrung out. The answer to why this had occurred was, of course, condensation. The glass, chilled by the rain outside, had cooled the hot humid air inside the bus below its dew point, causing droplets of water to form on the inside of the window. It occurred to Charlie that water could be produced this way.

Charlie’s company – Light Works – has already designed and constructed the first Seawater Greenhouse in Tenerife and a subsequent operation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It produces fresh water from seawater and cools and humidifies the growing environment, creating optimum conditions for the cultivation of temperate crops. The greenhouse could theoretically produce 40 litres of water for every square metre of its construction. That means that it could produce five times as much as water as falls on Coventry – making it one of wettest places on earth!

In 1999, The Seawater Greenhouse was the overall winner of the Design Museum International Design Sense competition for ‘Best Practice in Sustainable Design’.

Jeremy Newton, Chief Executive of NESTA, comments on this latest award: ‘This innovation could have the potential to impact on the lives of millions of people living and working in coastal, water-starved areas around the world. We are delighted to be supporting it.’

As with all Invention and Innovation awards, NESTA has taken a stake in the project, in this case, a royalty stake. If his project proves profitable, NESTA will realise returns that can be re-invested in other people and projects.

Charlie is joined by a small team of experts which include, Philip Davies, a professional engineering consultant, and Marlene McKibbin, an independent designer who specialises in plastics and polymers.

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