A low-cost gel film that can pull water from the air even in the driest climates has been developed.
Scientists and engineers at the University of Texas, Austin have developed an innovative solution that could help people living and working in these areas access clean drinking water.
The gel is made of easily available materials and at around US$2 per kilogram is low-cost. A single kilogram can produce more than six litres of water per day in areas with less than 15% relative humidity and 13 litres in areas with up to 30% relative humidity.
"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.”
The research builds on previous breakthroughs from the team, including the ability to pull water out of the atmosphere and the application of that technology to create self-watering soil. However, these technologies were designed for relatively high-humidity environments.
“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 in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Walker Department of Mechanical 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.”
Renewable cellulose and konjac gum, a common kitchen ingredient, were used as the main buildings blocks for the gel. According to the researchers, the open-pore structure of the gum accelerates the moisture-capturing process. The film is flexible and can easily be moulded into a variety of shapes and sizes, meeting the requirements of the user.
The research was funded by the US Department of Defence's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); drinking water for soldiers deployed in arid climates is a major part of the project. The researchers said in the future they hope to see the low-cost gel used in homes.
The research paper appears in Nature Communications.