Potable water, in many regions on the planet, is a highly sought-after commodity, and many a pretty penny has been paid by some governments to secure ample supply for its people.
Over in Singapore, where water is also an extremely prized resource, a team of engineers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a substance that they claim can directly derive water from the air around us, all without the need for a power source.
Led by Professor Ho Ghim Wei from the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the team have created an aerogel – an almost-weightless solid material – that is able to reclaim water from molecules in the air in a manner that doesn’t require any sort of external energy source.
How does it work?
The aerogel’s structure resembles a sponge on a microscopic level, and long snake-like polymers work to attract water molecules using a sophisticated chemical structure that can quickly and continuously switch between attracting or repelling water.
The aerogel absorbs and transforms water molecules from the air into clean water without the need for a power source. IMAGE: National University of Singapore
This means that the aerogel collects water molecules autonomously, and then converts them into liquid which is released automatically. In the presence of sunlight, the structure can further speed up the release of water by transitioning into a completely water-hating state.
The team reported that about 95 percent of water vapor that passes through the aerogel comes out as water, and long-term experiments saw the substance yield water for months completely uninterrupted.
On a grander scale, this process will allow people to tap into a water resource that has so far been plentiful, but incredibly elusive – it is estimated that the total amount of moisture in the earth’s atmosphere is sufficient to fill almost half a trillion Olympic-sized swimming pools.
And while there are already other existing methods to derive water from the air, this one is the first to function without the need for an external power source.
So far, the team have reported that one kilogram of aerogel is able to produce about 17 liters of water per day in a humid environment, and all tests on the derived water have so far met the standards for drinking water set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
IMAGE: United Nations
Considering that over 1.1 billion of the world’s population lack access to water, and that two thirds of all people may face water shortages by 2025, the team’s project – should it go on to become a mainstream success – may just prove an invaluable part of the solution to the planet’s water scarcity problem.
The team have already published their project and findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal back in October, 2020, and they now seek industry-level partners to help bring their invention to the mass market, with mooted practical use cases being in sporting equipment or survival tools.
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Cover image sourced from National University of Singapore.
ที่มา : Mashable