A cruel contradiction exists in Lima, Peru. The second driest city in the world after Cairo, Lima sits on Peru’s coastal desert, making clean drinking water scarce. Many residents have to rely on small wells that are “not nice, and often polluted.” Yet the air flowing above the city has a humidity level of 98 percent.
Engineers at Lima’s University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), devised a way to literally connect Lima’s dry conditions to the humid air above by using a readily available asset: a billboard. Their creation, the UTEC Water Billboard harvests water from the humid air. The air is processed through a series of reverse osmosis machines installed inside the billboard. The air is passed through a filter, its humidity condense and cleaned of carbon, then stored for local residents to simply turn on a tap at the billboard’s base to receive clean drinking water.
The structure that previously only promoted products few residents in the area could afford now produces an average of 95 liters of clean water per day.
In its first three months of operation, the billboard produced almost 9500 liters of fresh drinking water, fulfilling the needs of hundreds of local families. The billboard has become an integral part of life in the area. Local farmhands and workers stop by at the beginning of the work day to fill their water bottles, and schools route their sports and running classes past the billboard so students can stop for a drink.
“They could put this in different places,” said one resident as he filled a container for his family. “If possible, in each village, in each town. It is water that gives us life.”
The UTEC Water Billboard was originally created as a partnership between UTEC and the ad agency Mayo DraftFCB to show how engineering skills can benefit society and inspire local youth to consider a career in engineering. The billboards have been recognized as the first in the world to be repurposed to convert the air’s humidity into drinking water, and have become a model of a resourceful way to leverage extra abilities from existing infrastructure for new beneficial use in the city.