Scientists from MIT and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered a way to harvest fresh water from air

By Nicole DiGiose

As the human population grows and the climate heats up,
water shortages, which are already affecting regions around the world, are
expected to get much worse. Fortunately, scientists at MIT and the University
of California at Berkeley have developed
a technology
that could provide an easy way of obtaining fresh water almost
anywhere on Earth. Their secret weapon? A little solar-powered device that
extracts water directly from the moisture in the air.

MIT_Water_Harvester

The tissue-box-sized device can produce 2.8 liters of water in 12 hours. Image source: MIT.

Using only the power of the sun and a special material with
some extraordinary properties, the tissue-box-sized device, according to the
journal Science,
can produce 2.8 liters of water in 12 hours. One of the most impressive qualities
about it is that it can pull water vapor out of the air in conditions where
humidity is as low as 20%.

The special material that the device relies on is made by
combining zirconium and adipic acid into what’s known as a metal-organic
framework. During the night, the material collects water molecules from the
air, and during the day, sunlight causes it to release the water into a condenser.

Although still a prototype, the early results of the device
appear quite promising. One known challenge, however, is the fact that the cost
of the necessary zirconium material is high. Luckily, according to
the researchers
, they’ve had success using cheaper aluminum, too.

Chemist Omar Yaghi, who, in collaboration with mechanical
engineer, Evelyn Wang, created the device, said that the
device would allow for taking water supplies “off-grid.” This invites a
comparison to the global spread of cell phones, which, by circumventing the
need to lay expensive wires, proved more accessible in developing nations than
wired phones. The spread of the technology had profound
effects
on global agriculture, education, and governance.

Of course, the impact of a device that’s capable of
producing drinkable water without the need for expensive pipes, filtration
facilities, or power could be even bigger. According
to the World Health Organization, one in 10 people across the globe lack access to clean water, and 88% of disease in the developing world has been
estimated to be caused by unsafe drinking water.

But issues of clean
water access aren’t limited to developing countries. In the United States, safe
water has been an issue because of lead contamination in Flint,
Michigan
, and there are concerns over California’s droughts.

The success of the prototype has the research team hopeful
that commercial use may be in the near future.

“My vision is really to bring water to households off-grid,”
Yaghi told The
Washington Post
. “I don’t think we’re very far from it because of the fact
that this device works.”