Thomas Edison famously said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration – words that couldn’t be truer than for an innovation promoted by UNICEF that turns human sweat into drinking water.
The Sweat Machine was invented by Swedish engineer and TV personality Andreas Hammar in collaboration with The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. It extracts moisture from worn clothes by spinning and heating them, then filters the resulting liquid so that only pure water remains.
The technique, known as membrane distillation, uses a Gortex-like material as a filter that “lets only steam through but keeps bacteria, salts, clothing fibers and other substances out,” Hammar is quoted by The Independent as saying. The heart of the machine is made by Sweden’s HVR Water Purification AB.
“They have something similar on the [International] Space Station to treat astronaut’s urine — but our machine was cheaper to build,” Hammar says. “The amount of water it produces depends on how sweaty the person is - but one person’s T-shirt typically produces 10ml [0.3oz], roughly a mouthful.”
A more common technology for removing salt and other impurities from water is known as reverse osmosis, which uses lots of energy to produce the extremely high pressure required to force raw water through a semi-permeable membrane. You can see a diagram of how it works here.
UNICEF is using the Sweat Machine as the centerpiece of a campaign to raise awareness about the lack of clean drinking water for children. The United Nations agency estimates that 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water.
“We wanted to raise this subject in a new, playful and engaging way,” Peter Westberg, deputy executive director at UNICEF Sweden, said in a statement. “Our Sweat Machine is a reminder that we all share the same water. We all drink and sweat in the same way, regardless of how we look or what language we speak. Water is everyone’s responsibility and concern.”