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Ford taps Israeli water-from-air firm Watergen for in-vehicle drinking water

US car giant partners with Israeli company to install atmospheric water generators in recreational vehicles

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

A Ford Ranger vehicle installed with Watergen's Mobile Box water-from-air generator. (Courtesy/Watergen)
A Ford Ranger vehicle installed with Watergen's Mobile Box water-from-air generator. (Courtesy/Watergen)

US carmaker Ford is partnering with Israeli water-from-air tech company Watergen to deliver a built-in drinking water generator in the automotive giant’s adventure and recreational vehicles.

The announcement was made on Tuesday in Tel Aviv on the sidelines of the Smart Mobility Summit 2021, an annual conference for the transportation sector organized by the Smart Mobility Initiative, a unit of the Prime Minister’s Office that promotes smart mobility solutions.

Founded in 2009, Watergen has developed a patented technology that enables cost-effective, low-energy generation of clean drinking water from air, using a series of filters. After the air is sucked in and chilled to extract its humidity, the water that forms is treated and transformed into clean drinking water. The technology uses a plastic heat exchanger rather than an aluminum one, which helps reduce costs; it also includes proprietary software that operates the devices.

The company, headed by Russian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Mirilashvili, has a number of products already on the market including large- and medium-scale generators that the company says can produce between 220 and 6,000 liters of water per day, depending on the generator, as well as an at-home device that can produce 25-30 liters of water per day. Watergen also developed generators for the automotive market including the Watergen Onboard which can generate up to 50 liters of water per day and can be installed in motorhomes, RVs, caravans, trucks, and buses, and the WaterGen Mobile Box, a portable, lightweight generator that can make up to 20 liters of fresh drinking water a day.

The latter made its world debut in the Ford Ranger pickup vehicle line at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas last weekend, said Watergen CMO Yaniv Fainshnider.

“The Mobile Box generator is an after-market accessory that buyers can opt to have installed in their new [Ford Ranger line] vehicles. It can be used to produce safe, quality drinking water while on a field trip, for example, without having to worry about carrying enough water with you,” Fainshnider told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

A Watergen Mobile Box installed in a Ford Ranger. (Courtesy/Watergen)

The Mobile Box unit needs a 12V power supply and access to fresh air to produce the water. In Ford Ranger vehicles, the Mobile Box will be installed on the flatbed of the pickup, where it will “occupy minimal space due to its compact dimensions (630 x 530 x 460 mm),” the company said.

“The ability to produce clean drinking water without relying on an external water source is a gamechanger for those who seek off-grid adventure,” Watergen said in a statement.

Fainshnider said the company is already working with a number of car manufacturers and other high-profile clients, which he declined to name at this time.

He did say that Watergen works in 80 countries around the world based on the idea that “everyone should have access to clean, safe drinking water.”

“We don’t need to treat water or to tell people to conserve water; we can just produce it from the air. So many communities around the world don’t have access to safe drinking water and we want to be part of the solution,” said Fainshnider.

Earlier this year, Watergen embarked on a project in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to provide generators that could produce up to 6,000 liters a day to Palestinians in the enclave who face a chronic water shortage.

Gaza’s overused aquifer has been degraded by saltwater intrusion and contaminated by pollutants, making most available water salty and dangerous to drink and forcing the import of bottled water, AFP reported in January. Only three percent of Gaza’s own water meets international standards, according to the United Nations, which had in 2012 predicted that ecological pressures would have made Gaza “unlivable” by now.

A solar-powered water generator that extracts potable water straight from the air donated by Watergen, a company owned by a Russian-Israeli businessman, in the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip, on November 16, 2020. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

Israel and Egypt tightly control imports to Gaza, to prevent the Hamas terror group that controls the strip from importing weaponry, and Mirilashvili told AFP in January that getting his machines approved “took some time.”

Mirilashvili bought Watergen after moving to Israel in 2009. The company CEO and president has a colorful personal history, including time spent in a Russian prison following a kidnapping conviction in a trial the European Court of Justice later found was flawed.

A religious Jew with a picture of a prominent Orthodox rabbi on his office wall, Mirilashvili told AFP that when he learned about Gaza’s water crisis, he immediately wanted to help.

“Our goal was that everyone on Earth could be supplied with drinkable water… It was immediately clear that we had to help our neighbors first,” he said.

Watergen inked a deal last year with Emirati firm Al Dahra to export the Israeli solutions to the UAE and other regional countries.

This summer, Watergen installed a generator for a Navajo Nation Native American community in Arizona to help them deal with a crippling water shortage. Nearly 10,000 families across Navajo Nation lack access to running water, per recent estimates. Local groundwaters have been contaminated over the years by mining and the situation has been exacerbated by the devastating drought affecting the western United States.

Watergen installs a GEN-M water generator at Rocky Ridge Gas & Market in the Hard Rock Community of the Navajo Nation. (Watergen)

“The drinking water crisis is the most important issue of our time, and it is for that reason that Watergen is working tirelessly to realize one goal: to bring drinking water from the air to people everywhere,” Mirilashvili said in July.

Watergen has offices in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Russia, China, and India, Fainshnider said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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