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Burning thirst? Water from diesel

By Nick Easen for CNN

The water on the right was extracted from the diesel emission on the left.
The water on the right was extracted from the diesel emission on the left.

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(CNN) -- The idea of quenching your thirst by drinking water from a car's exhaust might seem unlikely, but new technology could soon make it a reality.

If a new research project reaches fruition, parched desert-bound soldiers and humanitarian workers will be able to use their diesel engines to hydrate.

The same technology may one day be commercially available for vehicle exhausts, allowing us to greatly reduce airborne pollution from burning fossil fuels.

"I think it will be cost effective in a humanitarian situation or chemical battle zone or where emissions need to be reduced," Vincent Watson from UK-based defense research firm QinetiQ told CNN.

Diesel combustion produces a lot of water vapor, carbon soot and combustion gases.

QinetiQ found that by wrapping a small refrigerated water jacket around a vehicle's exhaust pipe, dirty water can be condensed from the emissions.

And for every liter of diesel consumed, 0.89 liters of black water is collected.

Admittedly it takes a lot of filtering before the liquid even looks clear and then it is still high acidity. "But some soft drinks are considerably more acidic," adds Watson.

The system still needs a lot of development so that the water is pure enough to meet international drinking standards, and is neither acidic nor alkaline.

The scientists working on the project are hoping to scale up their initial shell and tube condenser so that its design, filtration and purification ability is ready for commercial usage.

The device also removes particles and potentially some of the chemical pollution from the exhaust gases.

This means that it could be used to reduce air pollution from all combustion engines, especially in big cities with permanent low lying smog clouds such as in Rome and Rio De Janeiro.

The system also works on petrol, paraffin, fuel oil and gas. What is left from burning the fossil fuel is also cold, therefore there would be less heat pollution dispersed into the atmosphere from the actual combustion process.

However, the scientists have yet to work out whether the whole device including the refrigeration unit would reduce or contribute to further heat pollution in the environment.

"In fact we started this project about six months before the Iraq war, the U.S. military are also doing something as well," says Watson.

And the U.S. Department of Defense has already announced their involvement.

In a statement they said that within the next five to 10 years, troops would be able to sit in their combat vehicles, make water by burning diesel fuel and use that water to reconstitute their food.

In a statement, Gerald Darsch, of the Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, called water "a logistical nightmare" on the battlefield because of it takes a lot of room to transport and weighs a lot.

"So if we can generate water on the battlefield, it's a good thing in terms of reducing the logistics pipeline," he said.

Roughly 80 percent of the material that is deployed in the battlefield consists of water and fuel.

In desert battlefields, soldiers require up to 10 liters of drinking water a day.


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