Extracting drinking water out of thin air

A revolutionary breakthrough that is set to bring considerable relief to populations spread across vast in different countries struggling to meet the demand for drinking water.
Extracting drinking water out of thin air

If obtaining drinking water is a problem, here’s a novel idea to actually generate it out of thin air — as long as the air is hot, like in the summer days. Basically, if we are complaining about heat in the tropical environs, it is actually an advantage, as discovered by the researchers of The University of Texas at Austin. For some years now a team of researchers from this university have been analysing the potential of sourcing drinking water from hot atmospheric air in temperatures prevailing around 40 degrees Celsius. And they were successful in extracting water out of air and making it potable using solar energy.

This research is a revolutionary breakthrough that is set to bring considerable relief to populations spread across vast in different countries struggling to meet the demand for drinking water — the solution being the air we breathe, as long as it is hot. The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers were able to achieve the feat by using a molecularly engineered hydrogel device, which creates clean water using just the energy from sunlight, according to website of The University of Texas at Austin. The device is capable of producing between 3.5 and 7 kilograms of water per kilogram of gel materials, the quantity depending on humidity in the air.

Prof Guihua Yu, materials science and engineering professor in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and Texas Materials Institute of Cockrell School of Engineering (one of 18 colleges under the university) explains as cited by the website: “With our new hydrogel, we’re not just pulling water out of thin air. We’re doing it extremely fast and without consuming too much energy. What’s really fascinating about our hydrogel is how it releases water….we could just use our temperatures’ natural ups and downs, no need to crank up any heaters.” The water is extracted through the process of condensation using tnhe humidity from the air. The device consists of a transparent condensation cover which rests inverted on a water collector at the bottom. Atop the water collector are microgels and an insulation substrate which aids and hastens the condensation process to allow water to condense on the inside of the condensation cover and drip into the collector below.

The researchers have found that hydrogel adapts to microparticles — the microgels, which make the process rapid and efficient. The researchers have observed that this process makes water capture as well as release into the water collector fast, offering efficient water production through multiple daily cycling of the process.

The researchers are planning to scale it up to make the application easy for daily use across the world, especially in drought areas. Implications of the research in future could include portable models and larger models to enable water collection in large tanks.

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