cloud vessels hold water from desert air by nova jiang
original content
mar 07, 2013
cloud vessels hold water from desert air by nova jiang


glass blown ‘cloud vessel’ by nova jiang
all photos © patrick lydon
all images courtesy nova jiang

 

 

the project began when new york-based artist nova jiang envisioned serving water gathered from the air to an audience in cloud-like drinking vessels.
she was looking into existing water extraction methods such as solar stills, when she learned that artist jamie o’shea had been thinking about turning
his crater-like invention – dubbed ‘the caloris basin‘ – into an atmospheric water generator.

 

the ‘caloris basin’ provides solar heat for the water making process. the process uses calcium chloride, a hygroscopic salt that absorbs water
from vapor in the air. this works even in a desert with relative humidity as low as 10%. the salt is laid out in the desert overnight to absorb moisture.
this moisture is extracted from the salt during the day through the process of distillation, using heat produced by the ‘caloris basin’.
the resulting steam is condensed in a basic moonshine-type still to produce drinkable water. the salt can be reused indefinitely.

 

jiang modeled selected clouds in 3D software and modified them into the form of drinking vessels to hold the collected liquid.
these ‘cloud vessels’ were then 3D-printed in white food-grade ceramic and brought to los lunas, new mexico to meet with ‘the caloris basin’;
where a glass blower recreated the pieces. the water generator is effectively a functional way to extract drinking water from desert air –
the duo subsequently hosted a series of water-tasting parties in the desert, where participants were served water gathered from the air using these
‘cloud vessels’.

 

 


the project began when new york-based artist nova jiang envisioned serving water gathered from the air to an audience in cloud-like drinking vessels

 

 

o’shea believes it would be possible to scale up the operation and eventually make the prototype functional. to do so the salt mixture would
have to stay in a liquid brine form. this brine would circulate in fountains or open pools at the appropriate hour of the day.
o’shea will continue developing the water generator to see if it could be truly useful and he enjoys thinking of it as potential infrastructure
for an imaginary city in the desert.

 

 


the ‘cloud vessels hold water from an invention by jamie o’shea called the ‘caloris basin’ – an atmospheric water generator

 

 

the ‘caloris basin’ is an accurate solar concentrator built by cutting the mirror shape directly into the ground. this mirrored hemisphere
concentrates sunlight to generate high temperatures. the goal of the basin design is to absolutely minimize the material costs,
in exchange for increased onsite construction labor and a lack of portability. a reflective plastic is laminated into the hemispherical hole,
and a receiver – anything driven by heat from a cooking pot to a distillation apparatus- can be heated above 400 celsius by the focused sunlight. 
other concentrators capable of achieving similar high temperature and power cost 10 times as much as the caloris basin.

 

since only the reflective laminate and some steel wire in a basin are exotic, the non-local material required to construct a basin
is extremely transportable. an individual on foot could carry dozens of basins worth, and thousands could fit on a standard shipping pallet. 
the remaining local material, used to stabilize the hole and support the pot, can be as simple as adobe mud, crude lumber and pine pitch,
depending on what is used locally. the dish itself does not need to move throughout the day, only the receiver.
all solar concentrators are devices to redirect light – a task which is accomplished by a layer of metal thinner than most bacteria.
any material invested beyond this layer of metal serves to hold a shape in the face of wind, moisture, gravity, animals and
the other attacks of its earthly environment.

 

 


the duo subsequently hosted a series of water-tasting parties in the desert, where participants were served water gathered from the air using these ‘cloud vessels’
 

 

the final applications of the ‘caloris basin’ are still wide open – while it was designed for a developing world context, high capital cost is the principal
barrier to solar energy development anywhere in the world. it is probably possible to mechanize the basin construction where practical.
a solar thermal production plant based on a larger diameter basin is in final testing in new york state, to produce popcorn for the startup bjornqorn.
heat in the range produced by the ‘caloris basin’ has a fantastic array of potential uses. another promising application for places without electrical power
is the production of ice, using the heat-driven ammonia absorption cycle.

 

 


the process of the ‘caloris basin’ uses calcium chloride, a hygroscopic salt that absorbs water from vapor in the air, this works even in a desert with relative humidity as low as 10%

 

 

while the atmospheric water generator is a real working technology, the amount of water it can collect is not useful at this point.
most alternatives to conventional energy fit the same mold – while they do work, they cannot compete with the scale of present technology.
to be useful, this technology would need to be constructed on a sobering scale. water is a particularly unsubstituted resource,
and the problem of the depletion of fossil groundwater in the desert is seemingly intractable. but cheap, plentiful energy makes everything possible
- drinking water can be extracted from oceans, from the air, it can be transported by pipelines and tankers.
conversely, with abundant energy comes abundant human influence. the dark side of the quest for truly inexpensive renewable energy is
the failure to arrive at reasonable limits for human expansion. in the meantime, the wistful possibility of drinking the air in the
middle of the desert carries a sense of poetic possibility, tinged with sadness for the gradual loss of unconquered lands. 

 

 


the ‘cloud vessels’ hold moisture that is extracted from the salt during the day through the process of distillation, using heat produced by the ‘caloris basin’

 

 

 

 


the ‘caloris basin’ is an accurate solar concentrator built by cutting the mirror shape directly into the ground

 

 


the goal of the basin design is to absolutely minimize the material costs, in exchange for increased onsite construction labor and a lack of portability.

 

 


o’shea believes it would be possible to scale up the operation and eventually make the ‘calros basin’ prototype functional

 

 


the final applications of the ‘caloris basin’ are still wide open – while it was designed for a developing world context, high capital cost is the principal barrier to solar energy development anywhere in the world

 

 

 

 

 

 


a glass blower recreates the 3D printed version of the vessel jiang originally created for the project in glass

 

project info:

 

collaborator: jamie o’shea
commission: earthbound moon and ISEA2012
exhibition history: 2012 – ISEA2012 residency exhibition, rainosek gallery (albuquerque, US)

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