Moses West’s story, experience, and ambition all seem larger than life. As a self-described military brat, he was born in Georgia, moved to Germany, and spent most of his childhood in Houston, Texas. He served three years as an Army Ranger, then went to flight school and piloted helicopters including the Chinook. A combat injury sidelined his career but didn’t slow him down. After retiring from the military he circled the world, traveling from Germany to Sweden to Australia and eventually to Hawaii. While in Oahu, a meeting with a next-door neighbor changed his course once again.
As it happens, the neighbor had a small machine plugged into the wall that created water, which he says was “absolutely fantastic.” As Moses sat on his neighbor’s sofa and drank glass after glass, he had a revelation. The process seemed so simple yet had enormous potential to be a game-changer. His past home bases of Texas and Australia were in the middle of a drought and experiencing wildfires, while the air all around us is filled with H2O molecules just waiting to be used.
He thought, “If this little machine can do it on this scale, it’s just a mathematical formulation to get it to work on a larger scale. And so it’s a way to mitigate one of the largest crises that face us today.”
Still in his neighbor’s home, he remembered learning about the hydrologic cycle in elementary school, recalling that water is a closed-loop cycle. It moves between the oceans and atmosphere and land while changing between liquid, solid, and gas form. “We still have the same amount of water on the earth that we’ve always had. You borrow it and you give it back,” says Moses. His Atmospheric Water Generator simply borrows the H2O molecules from the air temporarily. “Water is here and it’s abundant and it’s a source that technology can remove and let us use it without any stress on our infrastructure.”
Today, his patented technology has produced over a million gallons of water. Until late 2017, it had primarily been used by the military. Then Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Moses founded the Water Rescue Foundation to raise money and then headed there with his machine, working alongside FEMA to deliver fresh water to the island’s residents. He even retrofitted the machine, which was already more energy efficient than many other water generators, to be powered by solar panels.
He saw it as yet another mission in his life that felt compelled to complete: “One man, one machine supplied an entire island with all their drinking water needs to prove that it could be done. Someone had to see this happen and stop just talking about it. And then, to operate it on solar power, that’s when I could have just cried. To sit there in a chair and have a machine producing over a thousand gallons of water, just using stored photons, turn to electrons, turn to H2O molecules, even at night from battery backup. I just sat and looked at it for hours.”
Moses really connected with the community and found it difficult to leave. He was struck by the magnitude of the difference that something as simple as clean drinking water can have on people’s health and lives. “You see people come to you and they’re physically sick, and then you give them water that you made, and then three, four five, days later their skin looks healthier – they look different.”
The machine that Moses developed was innovative from the start. One of the challenges of scaling up atmospheric water generation technologies is the amount of energy they require to function. Many units on the market today are very energy intensive.
Not this machine, though. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires power consumption no higher than 0.13 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per liter for approval. The unit developed by Moses used only 0.08 kWh in testing, and in Puerto Rico achieved 0.05 kWh.
Moses spends a lot of time watching the machine operate while thinking about “parasitic electrical load. If I can put my hand someplace and I can feel some heat come off or if I can feel some cool air come off … temperature change is energy.” He has continued to make tweaks to the design to minimize energy usage. “I’ve gotten the equipment down to the place where it’s very, very low on energy consumption,” he says. “And that’s what you had to do to get it out to the market.”
He says, “The one thing that everyone says is going to happen on this earth is that we are going to run out of water, and that’s just not true because we walk around in all the water we need every day.”