A trial to shore up the supply of drinking water in a remote Central Australian community will soon get underway, involving hydropanels that make water “out of thin air”.
- Yuelamu will trial 30 hydro panels for three months over winter as a possible solution to drinking water security issues
- The panels use solar power to collect water vapour from the air, which is then mineralised and stored in a tank
- The local council paid for the panels with a $120,000 NT Government special purpose grant
The remote community of Yuelamu, about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, has longstanding drinking water supply issues.
In 2016, after an outbreak of toxic blue-green algae infected the dam, the entire community was using a single tap to access drinking water.
Though each household now has one drinking water tap each, the Central Desert Regional Council said Yuelamu water security, like other communities in the region, was still threatened due to dwindling groundwater supplies.
Local Anmatjere man, Mack Murphy, said the water quality in the community was quite poor.
“It’s a bit salty, they have to treat the water from the main pump at the tank,” he said.
Though he was excited to see how the trial went, Mr Murphy said residents would have to wait for the results to see if it could be the solution to the community’s drinking water supply.
How does it work?
The council used a special purpose grant of about $120,000 from the Northern Territory Government to purchase the 30 hydropanels.
The panels, already in place in other parts of the country, use solar power to collect water vapour from the air, which is then mineralised and piped into a water tank ready for consumption.
Council chief executive, Diane Hood, said although she was initially sceptical about technology that claimed to make water “out of thin air” she was hopeful the trial would have positive results.
She said each panel was designed to produce 3 litres of a water a day and should function in a dry desert environment with low humidity.
“If it works it’s a different and a new solution that could really assist the communities.”
Technology ‘not so far-fetched’
Australian National University’s Michael Roderick has specialised in water at the Research School of Earth Sciences.
He said, although he had not used this particular technology himself, he was familiar with how it worked and thought the concept was a good idea.
“The traditional idea is to grab the air into a container and cool the container until you get dew formed and then you collect that,” he said.
“[You then] stop-off the inlet and the outlet and then you’ve got the water trapped in there and then you can drive it off, condense it, and collect it, so it’s not so far-fetched at all.”
Professor Roderick said the water also needed to be mineralised in the process otherwise it was too pure to drink.
“Drinking pure water is not ideal for your body because the water will tend to rush into your cells, which have some salts in them,” he said.
“So basically the idea is to add some simple salts to the water, in very low concentrations, to make it similar to bodily fluids.”
Expansion dependent on results
As for whether the model could work in a larger community, Ms Hood said the council would have to wait to see the results of the trial.
But there are questions about when the trial will officially begin.
While the materials have arrived in Yuelamu, the company installing the technology is outside the NT and will need to factor in quarantine periods after crossing the border and before entering a remote community.
“I understand it’ll take about two weeks to install and get everything hooked up once we can get the contractors into town,” Ms Hood said.
“And then the trial will go over the drier winter months.”
The council will be receiving real-time data of the trial through an app that monitors the water tank levels daily.