Abstracting Water Out of Desert Air

The worlds deserts are some of the driest places on the plant, yet the air in even the driest of climates still contain thousands of liters of water. The famous line from the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink,” accurately describes the deserts water possessing capacity. Until recently, this fresh water was inaccessible.

Scientists at MIT and the University of California Berkeley have created a solar powered device designed to suck this valuable water out of the air. The solar power capabilities allow the machine to work in the most remote locations, and it can even work in most vast and arid deserts on the globe. Harvesting fresh drinking water from water found in the atmosphere has potential to bring a safe drinking water to remote regions suffering from the lack of viable resources. That is why this technology is being recognized as one of the World Economic Forum’s top ten emerging technologies of 2017.

It is estimated that the air contains nearly 13 trillion liters of water. This is a huge untapped fresh water resource, until now. The device uses crystalline powders known as metal organic frameworks to absorb water from the air. For every kilo of this sponge like compound the the device can harvest three liters of fresh water each day.  While there is already technology being used to extract water from the air such as condensation machines, these machines require a humidity of 50% or more as well as a power source. This new device only requires 20% humidity and is solar powered, allowing water harvesting from the air in regions that were previously impossible.

The future applications and benefits for this technology are endless. This device can be used in places such as the African desert and similar regions that have a lack of fresh water supply. Having the potential to save lives around the globe. Omar Yaghi the Berkeley chemistry professor who helped develop the the metal organic frameworks used in the device sees this concept being mass produced.  He imagines a world in which every home has their own personal water supply. He describes this desired application saying, “One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household. … To me, that will be made possible because of this experiment. I call it personalized water.” The benefits of this device can be reaped all around the world, allowing for not only a better quality of life for many, but it can also save the lives of thousands of people suffering from this global issue.