Teams Selected to Develop Technology to Capture Potable Water from Air Under DARPA’s AWE Program

The Atmospheric Water Extraction program aims to provide fresh water for a range of military, stabilization and humanitarian needs, through the development of small, lightweight, low-powered systems By Joseph Macey / 05 Jan 2021
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DARPA recently awarded five contracts and selected one Government partner to develop technology to capture potable water from the air in quantities sufficient to meet critical DoD needs, even in extremely dry climates.

GE Research, Physical Sciences Inc., Honeywell International Inc., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and U.S. Naval Research Laboratory were chosen to develop next-generation, scalable sorbent materials and prototypes under DARPA’s Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program.

The goal of the AWE program is to provide fresh water for a range of military, stabilization, and humanitarian needs through the development of small, lightweight, low-powered, distributable systems that extract moisture from the atmosphere.

DARPA is open to various approaches, with an emphasis on advanced sorbents that can rapidly extract water from ambient air and release it quickly with minimal energy inputs. These sorbent materials offer potential solutions to the AWE challenge, provided they can be produced at the necessary scale and remain stable over thousands of extraction cycles.

In addition to developing new sorbents, AWE researchers will need to engineer systems to optimize their suitability for highly mobile forces by substantially reducing the size, weight, and power requirements compared to existing technologies.

“Access to clean water is of critical importance to the warfighter, and current water distribution operations incur numerous financial, maintenance, and logistical challenges,” noted Dr. Seth Cohen, AWE program manager. “The selected AWE program performers are being asked to leverage advanced modeling, innovative engineering, and additive manufacturing methods to support the program, which in turn will help maintain combat readiness, reduce casualties and cost due to water transportation, and enhance humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.”

AWE will address water needs in two tracks: expeditionary and stabilization. The expeditionary unit will seek to provide sufficient drinking water for an individual warfighter, with size, weight, and power (SWaP) parameters restricted by the need for portability and operation in austere environments. The stabilization device should provide the daily drinking needs for up to ~150 people (i.e., a company or humanitarian mission), with SWaP requirements tailored to resources available to missions of that scale.

The AWE program team is currently working with a wide range of government and industry stakeholders – including the U.S. Army Futures Command, Capability Development Integration Directorate (CDID), Product Manager for Petroleum and Water Systems (PdM PAWS), United States Special Operations Command, United States Air Force, Air Force Research Laboratory, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Marine Corps Engineer School, NEXLOG, and Imagine H2O – to serve as potential transition partners.

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