It’s not a lightsaber, but the new gadget from Santa Monica startup Skywell might make spark nostalgia for “Star Wars” fans. The company makes machines – also called Skywells – that extract drinking water from ambient air.

That’s the same idea behind moisture farming, the occupation of “Star Wars” hero Luke Skywalker and his family. Skywell even includes an image of Skywalker in company presentations.

“What was his job? He was on a moisture farm,” said Jonathan Carson, Skywell’s president. “1970s science fiction has become 21st century reality.”

Pulling water from the air is low-tech stuff – think of a common dehumidifier – but Skywell’s trick, said Ron Dorfman, the company’s chief executive, is that its machines are designed to produce water you’d actually want to drink.

That’s because they use ice-cold coils to condense water vapor in the air into liquid, which is then filtered and treated with ozone and ultraviolet light to kill germs. The amount of water a Skywell produces is a function of humidity and temperature, so a machine in Santa Monica would likely generate about five gallons in a day, while one in Las Vegas would produce less, Dorfman said.

Carson; Dorfman; and Eric Kurtzman, a managing director of the company, started looking for customers earlier this month. The 10-employee company is focused on businesses for now. Skywell leases its machines for about $90 a month and sells them for nearly $3,000.

That’s pricey, but Skywell’s executives say they’re banking on demand from environmentally conscious customers who will buy into the pitch that this kind of technology can alleviate water scarcity, cut down on the use of plastic bottles and provide water that’s cleaner than tap water.

Of course, those green benefits come with a big tradeoff: A Skywell uses about as much power as a large refrigerator, eroding much of the environmental benefit.

Still, Dorfman said a Skywell is, on the whole, better for the environment than bottled water and healthier than tap water.

“There is an energy component to it, but our ability to provide water and reduce plastics, and the health benefits, far outweigh the energy,” he said.

– Andrew Edwards

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