For billions of people it’s not that simple to turn on a tap and receive fresh water, and all over the globe researchers are trying to fix this problem. In Berkeley a team is working on water-harvesting equipment that needs no power to produce water even in the dry air of the desert.
Yes there are many ways to collect water from the air but many of them need power or parts that need to be replaced. However, what professor Omar Yaghi has developed needs neither.
The top secret isn’t some intelligent solar concentrator or low-friction fan — it’s all about the materials. Yaghi is a chemist who has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s keen on absorbing and releasing water.
It’s basically a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.
Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.
They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.
That’s not much more than a few sips, but enhancement is already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.
With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution.
“There is nothing like this,” Yaghi explained in a Berkeley news release. “It operates at ambient temperature with ambient sunlight, and with no additional energy input you can collect water in the desert. The aluminum MOF is making this practical for water production, because it is cheap.”
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