Water in the desert: the new technology to create it from the dry air of arid areas
A large part of the world population lives in arid areas where it is not at all easy to access supplies of clean drinking water. But a team of researchers and engineers from the University of Texas have developed a new material that could be a solution to the scarcity of water in the desert and in the arid areas of the planet.
This innovative material is a gel film able to extract water from the air, even in dry and arid areas. The gel is also composed of abundant materials and therefore easy to find at low cost. In fact, to produce one kilogram of this amazing gel, you only spend two dollars, and it can produce more than 6 liters of water per day in areas with less than 15% relative humidity and 13 liters in areas with a relative humidity of up to 30%.
A gel that can produce up to 6 liters of water in the desert
The film is the result of research based on previous studies by the same team which aimed to create a material that could extract water from the atmosphere to create a self-irrigating land. However, previous technologies were designed for environments with relatively high humidity. The new material, on the other hand, manages to capture water even in the desert, where the air is particularly dry.
In fact, as Guihua Yu, professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering explains, “this new work concerns practical solutions that people can use to get water in the hottest and driest places on Earth. This could allow millions of people without it constant access to drinking water to have simple and easy-to-operate water generation devices at home “.
To make this gel capable of carrying water into the desert, the researchers used renewable cellulose and konjac gum, an ingredient used in cooking, which they used as the main hydrophilic skeleton. The particular structure with open pores of this rubber is in fact able to accelerate the process of capturing water from the air.
Another component of the gel is the thermoreactive cellulose. This compound is capable of becoming hydrophobic when heated, allowing the collected water to be released immediately and thus minimizing the overall energy input for water production.
A ready-to-use technology: low-cost, low-energy and simple to make
Up to now, many systems have been developed for the production of water in the desert, which however require a considerable amount of energy. For this reason, although 6 liters of water may not seem like a lot, this gel could be an excellent prospect for the future. According to the researchers, in fact, it will be enough to create thicker films or absorbent beds which, once optimized, could significantly increase the amount of water produced.
In addition, the gel is made from material easily available and simple to produce, which could increase the likelihood of it being produced on a large scale. As Youhong Guo, lead author of the paper, with a PhD from the University of Texas and now a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains, “This is not something you need an advanced degree for. It is quite simple that anyone can do it at home if they have the materials“.
The gel film is very flexible and can be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the user’s needs. The making of the gel film it’s so simple that you just have to mix the ingredients and pour them into a mold and then just wait for the gel to be ready. As Weixin Guan, a PhD student on Yu’s team and lead researcher of the work explains, “The gel takes 2 minutes to set easily. Then it is only freeze-dried and can be detached from the mold and used immediately afterwards “.
The product is therefore really simple to make and could lead to a huge benefit for the populations living in the arid areas of our planet.
Image by Jörg Peter from Pixabay