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Extracting drinking water from sweaty shirts

Posting in Government

UNICEF wants to draw attention to the fact that 780 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. Around 125 million of them are children under the age of five.

To raise awareness for the issue, the group worked with Swedish engineer celebrity, Andreas Hammar, to develop the Sweat Machine. It wrings sweat out of clothes and puts it through a purification process that results in potable water.

  1. The machine heats and spins the clothes to extract the liquid from them.
  2. Then, in a process called membrane distillation, it filters the extract with a GoreTex-like material. Only steam (or water vapor) passes through; bacteria, salts, and clothing fibers are trapped.

One sweaty t-shirt should produce around 10ml of water. Here’s a video of how Sweat Machine was made.

To promote their Sweat for Water campaign, UNICEF Sweden and advertising agency Deportivo unveiled the machine during the opening of the Gothia Cup, an international youth soccer tournament in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week.

Players and visitors were invited to hand over their sweat-drenched clothes, or to accept the challenge of drinking a glass of water from the Sweat Machine. They even installed exercise bikes alongside the machine to get volunteers to produce more sweat.

Swedish soccer players Mohammed Ali Khan and Tobias Hysén (right) were the first to try a glass. More than 1,000 others volunteered to drink other’s sweat.

“We wanted to raise this subject in a new, playful and engaging way," said Per Westberg of UNICEF Sweden. "Our Sweat Machine is a reminder that we all share the same water. We all drink and sweat in the same way… Water is everyone's responsibility and should be everyone’s concern.”

The International Space Station uses a similar filtration system to turn astronauts' sweat and urine into potable water. Though, the Sweat Machine was cheaper to build.

According to Westberg, their machine will never be mass produced: “the demand for sweat is greater than the supply.” UNICEF will be raising money for more practical solutions, such as water purifying pills (£21 could provide 5,000 tablets).

[UNICEF blog via PopSci]

Images: UNICEF Sweden

— By on July 23, 2013, 7:36 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure