BRADENTON -- As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, Harry Ruiz remembers how discolored, smelly water was the only water available to drink during the country’s frequent storms, hurricanes and floods.
But at age 16, Ruiz spotted clear water dripping from his neighbor’s window air-conditioner into a 5-gallon bucket covered with a T-shirt. From that moment on, he was consumed. “That’s when I had this question: why are we drinking dirty water and not this?” Ruiz recalls.
After 30 years of research, Ruiz believes he’s finally found an answer to that question. Working with business partner Adam Slaw and investors, Ruiz has created a system he says will filter the condensate from air-conditioning units to create pure, drinkable water.
He and Slaw, co-owners of Water Source Technologies, have landed just one customer so far for their invention. The initial reaction among many, including air-conditioning experts, is bewilderment.
“I understand it can be done, but I’m not sure why it would be done,” says Wes Davis, manager of technical services for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. “Water is one of those resources we take for granted, so I’m always out for improving and maximizing our use of water. But the question is, is this cost-prohibitive?”
Ruiz, a marine biologist by trade, and Slaw, a former software developer, say that while their idea might save the average resident only a few dollars in water costs, it has much broader potential.
For one, Slaw says, it can minimize groundwater pollution from the metal contaminants that are present in most air-conditioning condensate. “If you think about it, the untreated condensation that’s going over a standard AC coil is not safe, and yet we’re putting it right into our backyard or our side yard,” Slaw says. “We’re actually contaminating our groundwater.”
They also foresee their invention reducing demand on groundwater aquifers with diminishing capacity. One commercial air-conditioning unit can generate hundreds of gallons of water, Ruiz says.
For Slaw, the most important aspect of WST’s invention is its potential to produce water that is as clean as distilled water.
“I’ve been interested in clean groundwater for about 10 years now,” Slaw says. “I’ve been concerned about all of the chemicals and pharmaceuticals and hormones that are in our water. So I’ve been trying to find an alternative to both bottled water and groundsource water, something that’s pure.”
Their innovation’s extensive multi-layered filtering system is what enables air-conditioning condensate to be converted into pure drinking water, Ruiz and Slaw say:
n A HEPA filtration system prevents most particulate matter from the air from making it to the air-conditioning coil
n Ultraviolet light shines on the water as it travels to the air-conditioning coil
n The coil, which is the main source of contaminants in AC condensate, is coated with a substance approved by the FDA for contact with water and food, and prevents any contamination from metals such as aluminum, copper, galvanized metal or rust
n Another round of ultraviolet light shines on the coil, destroying any mold or bacteria that pass through the HEPA filter
n The water then goes through a water filtration system, comparable to a reverse osmosis system, that removes any remaining sediment
n Next is a silver ceramic filter that eliminates any parasites, bacteria or viruses
n The collected water finally goes through a remineralization system that reinstates minerals such as calcium into the water.
The company’s big barrier right now is cost, Slaw says. The company has already spent $75,000 but until WST finds an investor to enable bulk purchase of equipment and to provide WST its own laboratory and warehouse, a resident needs to pay $3,000 to $5,000 to install the system on their air-conditioning unit. He estimates to make the bulk kits another $600,000 to $1 million would be needed.
Because the water quality depends strongly on how well the air-conditioning unit is maintained, WST is also preparing a certification program to ensure the company is involved with only qualified, high-quality air-conditioning technicians.
Nevertheless, Ruiz envisions a worldwide impact.
“We’d love to see our company manufacturing our own air-conditioning systems complete with an indoor air purification system and water generation capabilities,” Ruiz says.
“And my personal dream is to take this technology anywhere in the world where there’s a child suffering without drinking water.”