Extract nearly three liters of water from the air in 12 hours and from the sun this is possible thanks to a prototype developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with the University of Berkeley. This pioneering work pursues (and could soon become a reality) water sovereignty: access to water outside the network, in almost desert environments and in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of a family.
“For me, this will become a reality thanks to this experience, which I call “ personalized water ”“. This is ensured by Omar Yaghi, a scientist at UC Berkeley who explains that until now there was no other option to capture water from the air than to resort to additional energy and to a higher electricity bill. This system, on the other hand, runs on solar power, so it overcomes any previous problems and aspires to have met a challenge that remained to be resolved.
Decades ago, Yaghi himself invented structures which are the basis of the success of this project. They are the MOF, a combination of metals and organic molecules to create porous structures particularly suitable for the storage of gases and liquids. Much later, in 2014, his team created one with zirconium and adipic acid to which water vapor would adhere.
Around this time, the California research team visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to seek their collaboration to transform the MOF structure into a system capable of capturing water. And mechanical engineer Evelyn Wang and her MIT students did it with a job that offers “a new way to capture water from the air, which does not need high relative humidity conditions and is much more efficient“.
Specifically, it is a system of just under a kilogram of MOF crystals the size of dust particles. These are trapped by a solar collector, on one side, and by a condenser plate, on the other. As air travels through structures, water molecules adhere to interior areas. The sun does the rest. When you heat the MOFs, the captured water is redirected to the condenser and the water passes from vapor to liquid to a manifold.
Real-world testing of this system has demonstrated its results and found that while it is an unprecedented innovation in itself, it can also be a starting point. “Now we can make more MOFs, maybe thousands, to find better materials. There is a lot of potential to increase the amount of water captured, but it’s just a matter of additional engineering.Explains Wang, who estimates that if this prototype is currently able to absorb 20% of its weight in water, its capacity can be doubled and even more efficient materials can be found at humidity below 20%, with which this project has achieved results.
“QWe wanted to show that if you are in a secluded place in the desert you can survive with this system. A person’s water requirement, per day, to survive is equal to a can of soda. This can be accomplished in less than an hour with this prototype.“. The scientist’s words advance the enormous potential of this invention, which is still being worked on at Berkeley and MIT.
More information in Science.