Climate change threatens to make dry regions even drier, so scientists at UC Berkeley created a device to make water out of thin air.
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At least one hundred million people live in desert regions around the world according to the UN, and they survive off of less than 25 cm of rainfall each year, and for many, even that minuscule water supply is under threat as the climate crisis is making dry areas even drier.
So scientists at UC Berkeley have been experimenting with materials that can pull drinking water out of thin air.
That’s right, right out of thin air.
A chemist at the University of California, Berkeley reported that he and his colleagues have created a solar-powered device that could provide water to millions living in water-stressed regions.
At the device’s heart is a porous crystalline material, known as a metal-organic framework (MOF), that acts like a sponge: It sucks water vapor out of air, even in the desert, and then releases it as liquid water.
A single gram of an MOF can have the surface area of a football field, and depending on the metal and organic molecules they’re made of, MOFs can be tailored to capture various different things in their pores. For example, an MOF could have the ability to capture CO2 and turn it into the fuel methanol, or neutralizing nerve agents like sarin gas. The function the Berkeley scientists used their MOF for was extracting water vapor that’s present in the air.
The lead researcher behind the device started a private company called Water Harvesting.
The company’s plan is to launch a microwave-sized device that can supply 2 adults with enough water for their daily hydration and cooking needs. Eventually the research team envisions a harvester device big enough to supply a small village. If the devices end up being affordable, safe, and reliable enough, these metal-organic frameworks have the potential to turn even the driest desert into an oasis.
Learn more about this technology and what it could do for even the driest regions of the world on this episode of Elements.
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"During field tests over three days in California’s arid Mojave Desert, the harvester reliably produced 0.7 liters per kilogram of absorber per day — nearly three cups of clean, pure H2O. That’s 10 times better than the previous version of the harvester. The harvester cycles 24/7, powered by solar panels and a battery."
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"At its heart is a porous crystalline material, known as a metal-organic framework (MOF), that acts like a sponge: It sucks water vapor out of air, even in the desert, and then releases it as liquid water."
How does climate change affect precipitation?
"Rising temperatures will intensify the Earth’s water cycle, increasing evaporation. Increased evaporation will result in more storms, but also contribute to drying over some land areas. As a result, storm-affected areas are likely to experience increases in precipitation and increased risk of flooding, while areas located far away from storm tracks are likely to experience less precipitation and increased risk of drought."
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