LOS ANGELES – It started out modestly enough: David Hertz, having learned that under the right conditions you really can make your own water out of thin air, put a little contraption on the roof of his office and began cranking out free bottles of H2O for anyone who wanted one.
Soon he and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, were thinking bigger — so much so that this week the couple won the $1.5 million XPrize For Water Abundance. They prevailed by developing a system that uses shipping containers, wood chips and other detritus to produce as much as 528 gallons (2,000 liters) of water a day at a cost of no more than 2 cents a quart.
The XPrize competition, created by a group of philanthropists, entrepreneurs and others, has awarded more than $140 million over the years for what it calls audacious futuristic ideas aimed at protecting and improving the planet. The first XPrize, for $10 million, went to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aviation pioneer Burt Rutan in 2004 for SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned space flight.
So when Hertz learned a couple of years ago that a prize was about to be offered to someone who could come up with a cheap, innovative way to produce clean fresh water for a world that doesn’t have enough of it, he decided to go all in.
At the time, his little water-making machine was cranking out 150 gallons a day, much of which was being given to homeless people living in an around the alley behind the Studio of Environmental Architecture, Hertz’s Venice Beach, California, firm that specializes in creating green buildings.