As fresh water disappears from the ground, a group of Russian inventors is looking up, to the clouds, that is. A new crowdfunded project called Cloud Power aims to extract water from clouds and pipe it to earth, where it could be used to generate hydroelectric power and provide fresh drinking water for people in isolated areas. The system, currently in prototype phase, can collect about five liters of water per hour — but developers hope to ramp up that number with a larger scale project.

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The system collects the water by way of an Air HES, or air hydroelectric station. A specially outfitted weather balloon is floated into the sky, with a mesh water collection sheet suspended vertically below. As the mesh sheet passes through clouds, moisture is trapped in the fibers, and the water is collected in a conduit line.

The bottom of the conduit line is attached to a turbine that generates energy from water pressure coming through the tube. The fresh water is then collected in a separate reservoir, where it can be used for drinking or irrigation.

For now, the team is using smaller balloons to collect from low-level clouds at around 4,000 feet. To get to midlevel clouds in the troposphere, the system will require a larger balloon — or aerostat — which will rise to an altitude of about 7,000 feet.

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On the project’s Indiegogo page, the team acknowledges that the idea is not new: In fact, famed scientist Nikola Tesla proposed a similar system all the way back in 1915. But technological improvements in lighter-than-air craft and water collection materials have made the concept more economically feasible.

Donors to the Cloud Power campaign won’t get anything in return as of now — delivering from Russia is “risky and expensive,” according to the website — but the team hopes to eventually develop small-scale “Sky Fountain” personal water collectors that work with kites. The team also intends to freely share the technical specs on the Air HES project so that anyone can assemble their own water harvesting system.


Credit: Air HES