A groundbreaking development has everyone excited, but how exactly does it work, and what improvements needs to be made?
As we reported recently, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley have just create an incredible device capable of pulling water out of thin air. The discovery could be huge for developing countries where water is a precious resource. But how exactly does this technology work, and could it really be scaled up to the point where it’s practically useful?
The device combines metals like magnesium or aluminum with organic molecules. This results in rigid, proous structures that are great for storing both gases and liquid. More than 20,000 of these frameworks have been created worldwide by researchers, with some holding gases like methane or hydrogen, and others capturing carbon dioxide from glue gases. But the research team here wanted to see if they could pull a significant amount of water from the air.
Their device has two pounds of crystals squeeze between a solar absorber and condenser plate. Water molecules attach to interior surfaces. Then, sunlight heats up the framework and drives the water to the condenser, and then drips into a collector.
The technology will need some further development before it can be used int he real world, but the team is working hard to improve the system to produce even more water.
“This is a major breakthrough in the long-standing challenge of harvesting water from the air at low humidity,” said Omar Yaghi, one of two senior authors of the paper, who holds the James and Neeltje Tretter chair in chemistry at UC Berkeley and is a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “There is no other way to do that right now, except by using extra energy. Your electric dehumidifier at home ‘produces’ very expensive 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,” said Yaghi, who is the founding director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute, a co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute and the California Research Alliance by BASF. “To me, that will be made possible because of this experiment. I call it personalized water.”