August 23, 2009, Updated September 12, 2012

Global warming increasingly threatens humankind’s reliance on rainfall, but now an Israeli inventor has come up with an ingenious solution to diminishing water sources: a hovering unmanned plane powered by solar energy that harvests water from the air and drops it to the ground as rainwater.


The idea may sound wacky, but Mayer Fitoussi, CEO of Aqua Soft, a Haifa-based company specializing in environmentally friendly solutions to real-life problems, is serious.

“Have you noticed how condensation forms on airplane windscreens at high elevations because of the water vapor contained in clouds?” he asks. “That’s water that doesn’t necessarily reach the ground, and there are millions of tons of it in the atmosphere.”

Fitoussi, 53, an avid inventor with a knack for thinking outside the box, already has seven US patents registered to his name, despite dropping out of high school at an early age. “I’m autodidactic,” he explains. “Everything I know I taught myself.”

After his compulsory military service he traveled for 15 years throughout North America, including several years spent in Santa Clara at the time when the term ‘Silicon Valley’ was entering public consciousness. “My neighbors down the road were busy in their garage developing the first version of Apple computers,” he recalls.

Higher flights mean more water

His vast and varied technical knowledge, he says, was acquired mainly in the libraries of Stanford and Berkeley, where he would immerse himself in informal studies. “Of course, that was in the days before the internet changed the world. Later, back in Israel, it reached the stage where the Technion’s librarian knew me so well that she offered me coffee every morning.”

He returned to Israel 15 years ago. Since then, he has earned the support of Israel’s Chief Scientist’s office in his quest to develop some of his innovative products. “I’m probably the only person in the world to receive a government development grant despite not having a formal education,” he quips.

Fitoussi says his team has completed a feasibility study of the water-producing drone project, and is looking for an investor to finance the construction of a pilot.

“The system involves harvesting water from air, and can be adapted to a pilotless plane,” he tells Israel21c. “The higher the plane flies, the colder it is and more water can be harvested. The water from air is garnered using a well-known technology. What we did was to combine this technology together with solar, wind, heating and cooling energy to make the water production more efficient and much cheaper.

“The drone will be powered by natural energy sources: the sun, wind and evaporation. There is no limit to the amount of water it can produce. Air circulation powers its turbines. This invention combines existing technologies. Beyond this, I cannot tell you more.”

A prototype in Israel’s north

For now, the project remains just an idea on paper. “We have to generate some $2 million to bring it to the pilot stage. The prototype will not fly – it will stand on a high place in the Galilee or Golan Heights and produce water. The colder it is there, the more water it will produce. Once we’ve proved that the system works, we will be able to advance to the product development stage.”

Israel is a world leader in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, mainly for military purposes although civilian applications are increasingly in demand. No longer resembling children’s toys, UAVs can now be the size of jets. They can stay in the air much longer than manned airplanes, fly higher and further, and negate the need for considering the pilot’s personal comfort and safety.

Drones are increasingly being used worldwide for applications such as traffic monitoring, policing, airborne irrigation, scientific research and ionization of the atmosphere above large cities suffering from air pollution.

“A drone can be controlled from the ground and guided through strong winds,” Fitoussi points out. “Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the Israel Aerospace Industries have already expressed interest in the project.”

Fitoussi says that the idea is economically feasible. “It currently costs between 60 and 80 cents to produce a cubic meter of water via desalination. Using this system, the price will be five cents per cubic meter,” he claims.

A glider with wings like solar water heaters

“The amount of water produced will depend on the size of the plane – the larger it is, the more economical. Each square meter of solar cells will be able to produce 500 liters (1,057 pints) per day. The wings will resemble solar water heaters, like those on the roofs of almost every house in Israel. It will stay in the air like a glider, and never needs to land.”

The rain-generating drone is but one of Fitoussi’s inventions, developed and marketed through Aqua Soft. The start-up spent four years based in a technological incubator in Be’er Sheva before Fitoussi returned to his native Haifa a year ago. “The company is growing at a tremendous rate – green products are the way forward,” he says.

Aqua Soft’s main money generator is its unique natural water filter, which consumes no energy or chemicals, eliminates chlorine tastes, locks pollutants, dissolves minerals into easily absorbed particles, needs no filter replacement and produces no scale. “It’s for all your life, and the magnetized water is as tasty as mineral water,” he enthuses.

Another field his resourceful mind has delved into is that of producing ‘green’ fuel. “We know how to make gas from air using the ZSM-5 catalyst [a heterogeneous catalyst for hydrocarbon isomerization reactions patented by the Mobil oil company in 1975 and widely used in the petroleum industry]. I’ve been developing this method for seven gears, and have improved the production costs by 80 percent by recycling the organic materials,” he says.

“The added advantage is that the catalyst is produced using solar and wind energy – like everything else I do, the whole process is green.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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