New technology harnesses atmospheric water in deserts
New technology in development by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin could help harvest drinking water from the atmosphere even in the driest climates. A low-cost gel film that can pull sufficient water for drinking from the atmosphere within a short time is in development.
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According to the experts, 1 kg of the gel has the capacity to draw up to 6 liters of water per day in areas with less than 15% relative humidity. In areas with up to 30% relative humidity, 1 kg of the gel can draw up to 13 liters of water per day. The materials that facilitate the process cost about $2 per kilogram.
Young “Nancy” Guo, the lead author of the study published in NatureCommunications, says that the technology offers geographical advantages over others. She argues that it can be used in dry as well as moist environments. It can also be implemented in remote areas where water supply is an issue.
“The advantage of taking water moisture from the air is that it’s not limited geographically,” Guo said.
Harvesting water from the atmosphere is not something new. Although there have been several attempts to harvest atmospheric water, the attempts have failed to yield results in arid areas. Furthermore, some of the approaches used in harvesting atmospheric water are energy-intensive.
The recent study solves most of these challenges. The researchers use materials that can capture water from the atmosphere without necessarily needing a power connection. One of the components is konjac gum, a powder made from a root vegetable native to Asia. The material boasts of open pores that help expose it to air and is combined with different types of salt to naturally absorb water. Other ingredients are added to the gel that help it to quickly capture and release water when heated.
“This new work is about practical solutions that people can use to get water in the hottest, driest places on Earth,” said Guihua Yu, professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering. “This could allow millions of people without consistent access to drinking water to have simple, water generating devices at home that they can easily operate.”
If this technology is well adopted, it could help save millions of people who strive to find water in arid areas. In third-world countries, people have to track for hours just to find water. Such a technology could be instrumental, owing to the fact that it is cheap and usable.