Solar-Powered Device Makes Water Out of Dry Desert Air

It shows a lot of promise, although the efficiency needs to still be improved more.

When it comes to future challenges, one of the biggest will be water scarcity – on a warming planet we’re going to have plenty of seawater, but not enough fresh, clean water in the right places for everybody to drink.

And while a lot of research has focussed on desalination, a team of scientists have now come up with another possible solution – a device that pulls fresh water out of thin air, even in the middle of the desert. All it needs is sunlight.

Called the ‘solar-powered harvester’, the device was created by teams from MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, using a special type of material known as a metal-organic framework (MOF).

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As ambient air diffuses through the MOF crystals, water molecules attach to the interior surfaces. X-ray diffraction studies of the system have shown that the water vapour molecules often gather in groups of eight, forming cubes.

Sunlight then heats the MOF up and pushes the bound water towards the condenser, which is the same temperature as the outside air. This vapour condenses as liquid water, and drips into a collector to provide clean drinking water.