A new desert-inspired way to extract clean water from air

With the aim to reduce the scarcity of water and make it available for everyone, researchers have found a way inspired by desert life to extract water from air.

A new desert-inspired way to extract clean water from air

A new research at Ohio State University has discovered a way to gather water from the ambient air around us. This research was inspired from things already present in nature such as cactus, beetle and desert grass.

“We thought: ‘How can we gather water from the ambient air around us?’ And so, we looked to the things in nature that already do that: the cactus, the beetle, desert grasses.” said lead researcher Bharat Bhushan.

The team looked into desert to find life that survives despite limited access to water. Cactus, beetle and desert grass gather water condensed from nighttime fog. They gather droplets from the air and filter them to roots or reservoirs, hence providing enough hydration to survive.

The drops of water are collected on wax-free, water-repellent bumps on a beetle’s back. It then slides towards the beetle’s mouth on the flat surface between the bumps. Similarly, desert grass collect water at their tips and then channel the water towards their root systems via channels in each blade. A cactus gathers water on its barbed tips before guiding droplets down conical spines to the base of the plant.

The team built a similar, but larger, system to let humans pull water from nighttime fog or condensation. They used 3D printers that mimicked those natural surfaces. They then created enclosed, foggy environments via a commercial humidifier to see which system gathered the most water.

The saw that conical shapes gather more water than the cylindrical shapes, grooved surfaces moved twice as much water than ungrooved surfaces. They also concluded that best surface would incorporate a heterogeneous material, each inclined at 45-degree angle.

For now the work was conducted on a laboratory level, but if scaled up, they can gather water in desert from fog or condensation that people in dry environments could then drink.

“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” Bhushan said. “By using bio-inspired technologies, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.”