Clean water is a vital element we could not live without. To continue to sustain this resource, researchers came up with a system that could extract clean water out of thin air. They used solar energy technology as an effective means to overcome water-shortage, dry spell, or drought.
This technology resorts to hydrogels – gel-polymer hybrid materials – designed to function like “super sponges” with the capability of holding a huge volume of water. Lead researcher Guihua Yu from The University of Texas employed hydrogels. These materials can both absorb water in vast amounts and release it when heated, at the same time.
The exceptional integration worked effectively in both damp and dry weather conditions. It is estimated that air consists of 50,000 cubic kilometers of water. The solar energy technology could penetrate into those reserves. This could possibly result in small, cheap, and convenient filtration procedures.
The team’s postdoctoral researcher Fei Zhao said, “We have developed a completely passive system where all you need to do is leave the hydrogel outside and it will collect water. The collected water will remain stored in the hydrogel until you expose it to sunlight. After about five minutes under natural sunlight, the water releases.”
The solar energy technology emanated from last year’s innovation where researchers established a solar-powered water purification invention. They also used hydrogels to clean water from different sources with only the use of solar energy.
Hydrogels contain confined water and ions inside a 3-D chain of pores. These are specifically compact due to the composition of water molecules from within. The hydrogels are easy to produce. Biological hydrogel composition can form naturally in and out of the cells.
Yu’s new development team took a step further by using water that is already present in the atmosphere. In regards to hydrogel-based technologies, Yu and his team progressed a way to fuse materials that contain hygroscopic (water-absorbing) qualities as well as thermal-responsive hydrophilicity.
The Texas team combined the potentialities of hygroscopic polypyrrole chloride and isopropylacrylamide. The combination of the materials proved to extract water from the air in both humid and dry weather.
According to Yu, the new material is developed to gather moisture from the atmosphere. While doing so, it can also create potable water under sunlight while bypassing serious energy consumption.
Although this solar energy technology device is small-scale, it is quite productive. It can produce up to 50 liters per kilogram of the hydrogel. This is on a daily basis based on the prototype tests. The yield surpasses a household’s daily water consumption.
The device can be useful in different countries’ poverty-stricken areas. The developing nations could also benefit where water access is very difficult. The technology can be used to build up water harvesting methods. It would make them more effective and save more energy.
Together with his team, Yu has filed for a patent for the solar energy technology device. Their research is published in the latest issue of the journal, Advanced Materials.
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