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Building show: Smarter homes, water out of air

Technology at the West Coast Green 2008 building show includes a device to deliver water from ambient air, a $14,000 solar table, and energy monitoring systems.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--The West Coast Green 2008 building show kicked off on Thursday, for the first time in this city with one of the nation's most ambitious "greening" plans.

During our sneak peek at some of the 400 exhibits, products that caught our attention included a device that seemed to make water out of thin air, a solar-powered table, home energy automation systems, and better concrete blocks. Check out the video below for more.

Element Four
Element Four claims to extract water from the air. Its Watermill appliance is supposed to supply enough water daily to quench the needs of a six-person family. It costs around 35 cents to produce more than 3 gallons of drinking water each day, according to the British Columbia-based company. The Watermill is set to become available next February for around $1,300.

CEO Rick Howard said he'd like to create different versions of the 300-watt Watermill, perhaps powered by the sun or wind. He sees the technology as ideal for household use during emergencies, as well as for people in the developing world. It could even customize flavored water, Howard added.

As air enters the Watermill, humidity condenses on a patented coil, and passes into a reservoir. Water passes through a carbon filter and past a germ-killing UV light. The product could be hooked up to a kitchen faucet.

Most drinking water technologies, by contrast, take dirty or salty water, or even sludge, then purify it.

Intelligent Forms
This Vancouver design firm's $14,000 solar panel-topped table could become a fixture on the decks of cruise ships and on poolside patios of the well-heeled and eco-chic. The weather-sealed, stainless-steel shell encases a 110-volt outlet and USB ports meant for a laptop and various gadgets. Beneath the SOlo lounge table's top are an inverter and 18 batteries of 12 volts each.

"Everything we did we tried to stick with local suppliers and as much recycled content as we could," said co-founder and designer Keith Doyle.

Adura Technologies
Adura Technologies of San Francisco specializes in wireless lighting controls for commercial buildings, which make up nearly 20 percent of U.S. energy consumption and carbon emissions. The system can be installed within light fixtures, without running wires or tearing up walls, and controlled remotely with an iPod or other handheld device. The company, a 2005 winner of the California Clean Tech Open competition, is closing a $5 million Series A round of financing.

Agilewaves of Menlo Park, Calif., makes energy monitoring systems to help homeowners see and control their use of gas, water, and electricity. At West Coast Green, Agilewaves demonstrated its product within a showcase home made from five shipping containers.

The company integrated its product this summer with home control systems from Crestron.

"We can now truly make a smart home," said David Brock, chief technology officer. "You may set up your carbon budget, and this system will tell the home control system that it needs to reduce the carbon footprint. Maybe that means reducing your lights by 20 percent by turning off nonessential appliances."

Integrity Block
Integrity Block of Los Altos, Calif., aims to build more sustainable buildings from the bottom up by reinventing the lowly concrete block. Cement manufacturing increasingly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and cement can't be recycled easily. Integrity Block, by contrast, says it uses an engineered soil composite, including recycled materials, resulting in 40 percent fewer carbon emissions.

"We have a block that's inherently sustainable," said company co-founder Randy Schmitz.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is on the advisory board of Integrity Block, which raised $2.7 million in capital in June.