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Dewpal, a 3D-printed water collector, is inspired by a desert beetle

Water scarcity is a huge global problem, affecting about 3 billion people around the world each year. However, a team of researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium think 3D printing may have a role to play in finding a solution.

To that end, they’ve developed an affordable smart tool called Dewpal, which is able to help collect water in places where it is not in ready supply. And, as project participant Bram Danneels told Digital Trends, it’s inspired by an unusual type of beetle.

“We’re trying to create an object that is able to passively, without the need for energy input, collect water from the air by simple condensation,” Danneels said. “The idea originates from the fogstand beetle, which is able to collect water by condensation on its shield to survive in the Namib desert. In Dewpal, we combine 3D-printing with biotechnology to try and do a similar thing.”

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The team plans to print the dome shape for its collector using an innovative filament that allows the team to attach a certain protein. “This ice nucleation protein is used by some bacteria that are present in the atmosphere to help in cloud formation,” Danneels continued. “By attaching this protein to our shape, we aim to increase the condensation of water onto our collector.”

At present, there’s no immediate plan to deploy Dewpal, although it’s certainly a smart proof of concept. It’s one of the entrants in this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, aka iGem, which comprises various international teams working on projects involving synthetic biology.

“Our big goal is the iGEM jamboree at the end of October in Boston, Massachusetts,” Danneels noted. “The Dewpal project originated as an idea to take part in this competition, and in a few weeks, we’ll see if all the hard work of students, advisers, and instructors will have paid off. After that, I guess we’ll see. Who knows, in a couple of years, people may be using self-collected water from Dewpal all over the world!”

If you want to help, you can contribute to the project’s GoFundMe page here.