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eNews June 2021

UNM Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies

UNM Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Water scarcity is a challenge in New Mexico and around the world. As groundwater and surface water availability decline, the need to explore alternative freshwater sources is clear. One idea for an alternative freshwater reservoir is the water in the atmosphere. This water has a very low salt content and has universal availability. The atmosphere contains six times more water than the world’s rivers. These factors make the water in the atmosphere a potential alternative freshwater source. However, to perform Atmospheric Water Capture (AWC) effectively, we need to better understand how different climate regions affect the amount of water being produced and the effectiveness of different water harvesting technologies.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded The University of New Mexico (UNM) master’s student Natalie Gayoso a Student Water Research Grant to study the cost of purchasing and operating technology that performs large-scale AWC to accommodate commercial applications. The project entitled, Techno-Economic Analysis to Determine Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies, will identify important cost and benefit drivers of AWC technologies.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Anjali Mulchandani, Gayoso will be conducting a Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA). The TEA will include three main steps: 1) performance modeling through a thermodynamic analysis of AWC energy requirements under various climate models, 2) cost modeling through identification of key capital and operating expenditures for AWC units and power supply, and 3) financial evaluation through a sensitivity analysis to determine the components that are critical drivers of cost at various scales of the technology.

According to Gayoso, the results of the TEA will show the volume of water collected at three model climate conditions – arid, temperate, and coastal –  based on the size and power requirements of two different water harvesting approaches (i.e., comparing drying air using a desiccant to condensation to dew point using a compressor). As Gayoso explains, “by developing a techno-economic analysis, we can evaluate the economic viability of AWC technology, allow direct benchmarking against competition like bottled water, and identify major cost drivers. This research will highlight the most cost-effective technology and energy-efficient mode to produce a high volume of clean drinking water from the atmosphere.” Gayoso expects that using existing renewable energy sites will be the most cost-efficient due to the negligible capital expenditure needed to bring the site to operable status. She expects a temperate climatic condition with 60 percent relative humidity to be the most cost-efficient area due to certain units costing more as the capacity of water increases. Gayoso plans on presenting her work at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October.

Gayoso, whose family moved to Albuquerque when she was six, received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Environmental Engineering and plans on graduating in 2022 with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Water Resources. After graduation, Gayoso plans on working somewhere where she can make a positive impact on water management and the environment.