The Pentagon’s research division, which is called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), launces new Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program sets out to sharply reduce delivering water risk by giving deployed units the technology to capture potable water on the spot from the air in quantities sufficient to meet daily needs of the warfighter, even in extremely dry areas of the world.
Providing potable drinking water to deployed troops operating in low resource or contested environments is no simple undertaking. Logistics teams face great risk delivering water and often incur what would otherwise be preventable casualties.
“The demand for drinking water is a constant across all Department of Defense missions, and the risk, cost, and complexity that go into meeting that demand can quickly become force limiting factors,” said Seth Cohen, the AWE program manager. “Right now, the military relies on purification of regional fresh and saline water sources, or transported bottled water, neither of which are optimal for mobile forces that operate with a small footprint. DARPA is turning to atmospheric water extraction as a potential solution that offers maximal operational flexibility with minimal risk.”
The AWE program has two tracks. Researchers supporting the Expeditionary Track will target deliverables built around the daily potable water requirement for an individual, in a compact, portable form factor. Researchers on the Stabilization Track will develop technology that is transportable on a standard military vehicle and can support a company of up to 150 people.
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.
“If the AWE program succeeds in providing troops with potable water even in arid climates, that gives commanders greater maneuver and decision space and allows operations to run longer,” said Cohen. “Ultimately, the technology could even diminish the motivation for conflicts over resources by providing a new source of drinking water to stressed populations.”