Innovation: Purifying the Business of Selling Water

In 2004, Jonathan Ritchey and Rick Howard joined forces to address the loss of one of the world’s most precious resources: water. The majority of the planet is covered with water (326 million cubic miles), yet only 3% is fresh water and even less is accessible to humans. Element Four is Ritchey and Howard’s answer—a company devoted to easing the global fresh-water shortage. Their product, the WaterMill, converts air into potable water through condensation followed by antimicrobial processes. The water then travels to various “points-of-use systems’ such as home faucets and refrigerators. Ideally, the WaterMill will produce 3.2 gallons of water per day—enough to meet the needs of a family of six. And at an average operating cost of 35 cents per day, it far surpasses in cost-effectiveness the price of bottled water. The point is to alleviate the environmental burden of bottled water, while placing control of fresh water sources into the hands of consumers.

The WaterMill is at the intersection of technology, environmentalism and philanthropy. Though the company’s target demographic will initially consist of suburbanites, Howard and Ritchey envision adapting the product for worldwide use. “With a minimum relative humidity, the WaterMill can be of benefit to any consumer in almost any environment, and this is where Element Four can have a global impact on the water crisis,” says Howard. Available in February, it is the first in an upcoming line of products that will include a solar-powered version of the WaterMill as well as the WaterWall, a large-scale adaptation for use on an industrial scale.