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Harvests Water From Desert Air Field tested system could provide
drinking water in extremely arid locations- 2018
(Researchers at MIT have developed a new device that is able to
extract moisture from very dry air. Image: Courtesy of the researchers)
(March 22, David L. Chandler, MIT News Office) It seems like getting
something for nothing, but you really can get drinkable water right out
of the driest of desert air. Even in the most arid places on Earth,
there is some moisture in the air, and a practical way to extract that
moisture could be a key to survival in such bone-dry locations.
Now, researchers at MIT have proved that such an extraction system can
work. The new device, based on a concept the team first proposed last
year, has now been field-tested in the very dry air of Tempe, Arizona,
confirming the potential of the new method, though much work remains to
scale up the process, the researchers say.
The new work is
reported today in the journal Nature Communications and includes some
significant improvements over the initial concept that was described
last year in a paper in Science, says Evelyn Wang, the Gail E. Kendall
Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who was the
senior author of both papers. MIT postdoc Sameer Rao and former graduate
student Hyunho Kim SM ’14, PhD ’18 were the lead authors of the latest
paper, along with four others at MIT and the University of California at
Last year’s paper drew a great deal of attention, Wang
says. “It got a lot of hype, and some criticism,” she says. Now, “all of
the questions that were raised from last time were explicitly
demonstrated in this paper. We’ve validated those points.”
system, based on relatively new high-surface-area materials called
metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), can extract potable water from even the
driest of desert air, the researchers say, with relative humidities as
low as 10 percent. Current methods for extracting water from air require
much higher levels - 100 percent humidity for fog-harvesting methods,
and above 50 percent for dew-harvesting refrigeration-based systems,
which also require large amounts of energy for cooling. So the new
system could potentially fill an unmet need for water even in the
world’s driest regions.
By running a test device on a rooftop at
Arizona State University in Tempe, Wang says, the team “was
field-testing in a place that’s representative of these arid areas, and
showed that we can actually harvest the water, even in subzero
dewpoints.” The test device was powered solely by sunlight, and although
it was a small proof-of-concept device, if scaled up its output would be
equivalent to more than a quarter-liter of water per day per kilogram of
MOF, the researchers say.
With an optimal material choice, output
can be as high as three times that of the current version, says Kim.
Unlike any of the existing methods for extracting water from air at very
low humidities, “with this approach, you actually can do it, even under
these extreme conditions,” Wang says.
Not only does this system
work at lower humidities than dew harvesting does, says Rao, but those
systems require pumps and compressors that can wear out, whereas “this
has no moving parts. It can be operated in a completely passive manner,
in places with low humidity but large amounts of sunlight.”
Whereas the team had previously described the possibility of running the
system passively, Rao says, “now we have demonstrated that this is
indeed possible.” The current version can only operate over a single
night-and-day cycle with sunlight, Kim says, but “continous operation is
also possible by utilizing abundant low-grade heat sources such as
biomass and waste heat.”
The next step, Wang says, is to work on
scaling up the system and boosting its efficiency. “We hope to have a
system that’s able to produce liters of water.” These small, initial
test systems were only designed to produce a few milliliters, to prove
the concept worked in real-world conditions, but she says “we want to
see water pouring out!” The idea would be to produce units sufficient to
supply water for individual households.
The team tested the water
produced by the system and found no traces of impurities.
Mass-spectrometer testing showed “there’s nothing from the MOF that
leaches into the water,” Wang says. “It shows the material is indeed
very stable, and we can get high-quality water.”
is fantastic, because of the practical demonstration of an air-cooled
water harvesting system based on MOFs operating in a real desert
climate,” says Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and
engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles, who was not
involved in this work.
“This provides a new approach to solving
the problem of water scarcity in arid climates,” Yang says. “This
technology, if one can further increase its production capacity, can
have a real impact in areas where water is scarce, such as southern
California.” (Source: news.mit.edu)
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