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This Solar-Powered Tool Can Create Fresh Water Out of Thin Air

Apr 14, 2017 10:33 AM EDT
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In the future, every household will be able to produce nearly three liters of water daily from thin air using the solar-powered tool.
(Photo : Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Water scarcity is a huge problem in many parts of the globe, but a new tool that can pull water out of thin air can someday offer relief to the poorest and driest regions in the world.

According to a report from the Phys Org, this new device was developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute Technology (MIT). The solar-powered tool uses a special material called a metal-organic framework, which was developed in Omar Yaghi's laboratory at the University of California Berkeley.

The researchers were able to create a solar-powered "sponge-like" device that can pull water from the air, according to a report from Science Magazine. It's powerful enough to produce 2.8 liters every day with just one kilogram of metal-organic framework.

"This is a major breakthrough in the long-standing challenge of harvesting water from the air at low humidity," Yaghi, one of two senior authors, said. "There is no other way to do that right now, except by using extra energy. Your electric dehumidifier at home 'produces' very expensive water."

Yaghi developed the metal-organic framework 20 years ago. The technology combines metals with organic molecules to create structures that are ideal for storing gases or liquids. It was in 2014 that Yaghi crafted a metal-organic framework that binds water vapor, eventually teaming up with MIT's Evelyn Wang and her team to develop a water-collecting system.

Wang's team used a kilogram of the dust-sized metal-organic framework crystals in a thin sheet of porous copper metal, which was placed between a solar absorber and a condenser plate, then inside a chamber.

When the chamber is opened at night, ambient air flows through the porous framework and water molecules gets stuck on the interior surfaces, forming tiny cubic droplets. When the chamber is closed in the morning, sunlight heats the metal-organic framework, freeing the droplets and pushing the vapor to the cooler condenser. The vapor then condenses as liquid water.

"One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household," Yaghi added. "To me, that will be made possible because of this experiment. I call it personalized water."

The study was published in the journal Science.

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