Published: Sun, April 16, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Solar-powered device turns air into drinkable water

Solar-powered device turns air into drinkable water

The first prototype was able to pull out 2.8 liters water from the air of the Sahara in 12 hours. "There are desert areas around the world with around 20 percent humidity", where potable water is a pressing need, "but there really hasn't been a technology available that could fill" that need, Wang says. Better yet, the new invention does not require electricity and the researchers are attempting to make the device as affordable as possible.

Professor Omar Yaghi, one of the senior scientists on the project, is calling the harvester "personalized water". Realizing the potential, Yaghi reached out to MIT's Evelyn Wang to team up to develop a water harvester using this new MOF.

The MOFs were invented by Prof.

These combine metals like aluminium or magnesium with organic molecules. Some of them hold methane, hydrogen, and other chemicals. They can also separate alcohols, sulfur, oxygen, odor-generating molecules, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and much more.

It was in 2014 that Yaghi and the team at UC Berkley succefully syntheized a metal organic framework that was capable of binding water vapor through the combination of zirconium metal and adipic acid. Their latest prototype uses a popular but odd new material and requires little energy, even in some of the driest places on Earth. Sun rays that are entering by means of a window heats up the MOF and the bound water rushes to the condenser, which has the same temperature as is the temperature of the outside air.

The solar-powered harvester, which can work in conditions as low as 20 per cent humidity, was constructed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. The key to their success is a family of crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. They are the building blocks that Prof. The porous spaces that can be filled with liquid or gas represented by the yellow balls above.

While it sounds pretty awesome already, the team admits there's a lot of room for improvement and fine-tuning, to make the device even more efficient. The current MOF can absorb only 20 percent of its weight in water, but other MOF materials could possibly absorb 40 percent or more.

The humidity could be as low as 20% yet this device will work surely and steadily.

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And when the water is released, it collects in the bottom of the prototype.

To sweeten the deal, this particular water harvesting device is solar powered - and we all know just how abundant sunlight is in a desert environment. "It is just a matter of further engineering now".

Professors Yaghi and Wang.

There are many different types of MOFs, which involve slightly different materials and structures. "We can then think about clever designs of how to stack these layers into the system by which you can enhance the transportation of the vapor molecules and the production of the water". "Or design the solar collector to allow for this at a much faster rate, where more air is pushed in".

Obviously scaling up to eventual commercialization comes next."We did some estimates, and anticipate if you had a 30 liter unit, say the size of a carry-on suitcase, that's equivalent to 5 kg of MOF or so", said Wang.

One in ten people don't have access to clean drinking water.

Last week, scientists from the University of Manchester in England announced the development of a scalable graphene membrane that can filter out the salt form seawater, making it drinkable. Mechanical engineer Oliver O'Reilly and his UC Berkeley colleagues have just published a scientific paper exploring this mystery of the ages. This is because the device is able to work in both wet and dry climates.

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