It is said you can’t produce things out of thin air, but some experts have been producing water from it for 10 years.

“The key point is, we can make water virtually anywhere,” said David Murphy, chief operating officer at Aqua Sciences, Inc. “And it’s good water.”

Aqua Sciences is one of many vendors in San Angelo this week for the West Texas County Judges’ and Commissioners’ Association Conference. The company moved one of its 40-foot emergency water station units — a converted shipping container — into the McNease Convention Center parking lot to show officials and serve water.

“This was owned by Sabine Pass” after Hurricane Ike, Murphy said Wednesday.

The 40-foot unit is capable of producing up to 30,000 gallons of water per day, Murphy said, but models can be smaller or larger. The company is developing microwave-size units that can produce several gallons per day for a household.

“It’s water for human consumption,” Murphy said. “The quality of this water is far better than drinking regulations.”

Aqua Sciences, which has worked with the Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide water in places ranging from Saudi Arabia to Haiti, designs the units as emergency solutions, Murphy said.

“We’re not the silver bullet. We are clear about that,” Murphy said. “We can provide a solution of acute drinking problems.”

Aqua Sciences brought the unit to the San Angelo conference for the perusal of West Texas officials.

“We understand Texas has some severe water problems,” Murphy said.

Such emergency water stations can be customized to fit a community’s needs, he said. The Sabine Pass unit, Murphy said, is capable of running off an electric grid, but it also has two diesel generators and a thousand gallon fuel tank for disaster situations in which there is no grid electricity.

Running the unit through a grid would put water costs at about 17 cents per gallon.

“It’s definitely less than bottled water,” he said. “There are a lot of ways to get the cost down.”

Large units such as the one on display Wednesday typically last about 15 years with the proper maintenance, Murphy said.

A 40-foot generator like the one from Sabine Pass would cost about $750,000 to $900,000, he said.

It also would cost about $37,500 to $45,000 per year for Aqua Sciences technicians to perform regular maintenance.

The cost would go down if the owner decided to use local HVAC contractors for routine maintenance.

The good thing about such a mobile unit, Murphy said, is that it can be shared by communities in emergencies and stored for months before it’s used. Communities could lease it out if they weren’t using it.

“There’s lots of ways to skin this cat,” he said. “You’re not married to it like a pipeline.”

HOW IT WORKS

While atmospheric water generation is not new, Murphy said the Florida-based Aqua Sciences uses a proprietary technology that is different from most other such technologies.

“Our process is fundamentally different,” Murphy said. “We take the basic principle of opposites attract.”

Many atmospheric water technologies work like air conditioners, he said, in which air passes over a cold coil, which cools and condenses the air. The water then drips off the coil and is collected.

By contrast, Murphy said, the Aqua Sciences machine sucks air in and runs it through a lithium chloride, or salt, solution.

Because the salt is negatively charged and water molecules are positively charged, the salt attracts the water molecules.

The water is extracted and the salt recirculated into the system. The salt is changed out every few years, he said.

After the water is extracted, it is treated by chlorination, Murphy said.

The process rids the water of any atmospheric bacteria, Murphy said.

He spoke about working at a Saudi Arabia camp next to a septic pool, saying water produced by an Aqua Sciences unit there passed potable water testing.

“The Army and FEMA said, ‘We don’t want you transporting chlorine,’ ” Murphy said. “So we make it.”

The units carry rock salt pellets, Murphy said. That salt is mixed with water and run through an electrolysis cell.

The electric current that’s run through the water then causes the salt — sodium chloride — to break up, leaving chlorine.

The water generated from the atmosphere is then dosed with chlorine, at a few drops a second, and then stored.

“When it comes time to dispense the water, it passes through a carbon filter,” Murphy said, to remove the chlorine.

Murphy stooped down and turned a spigot, letting out a gush of clear water, and offered it to visiting county officials who were interested in the unit.

“We’re just trying to engage the community on how this could be a solution for the community’s needs,” Murphy said.

©2014 the San Angelo Standard-Times (San Angelo, Texas)