Even in the desert, an innovative device pulls fresh water out of thin air

On any given day, you’re surrounded by water suspended in the air as imperceptible vapor. The idea of harvesting this water has deep roots in the sci-fi culture — when we first met Luke Skywalker on the desert planet, Tatooine, he was toiling away on his uncle’s vapor farm — but similar devices have also taken shape in the real world.

One of the biggest challenges engineers face when designing water harvesters is how to keep the device cool. To form water vapor, the device has to be cooler than the air around it. That might mean using a cooling fan, which would prove feasible in areas with easy access to electricity but not in undeveloped regions, where water scarcity is at its worst. Finding another solution is key.

In a study published last week in the journal Science Advances, University of California, Berkeley researchers demonstrated a unique approach to water harvesting that let them extract drinkable water from desert air without the need for external energy. The proof-of-concept device could pave the way for cheaply supplying clean water to arid regions.

“For the first time, we are demonstrating that you can harvest drinkable amount of pure water from the dry desert air every day, using essentially just a simple cheap box, with no additional energy and electricity required other than the natural sunlight,” Omar Yaghi, a professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley who invented some of the underlying technology, told Digital Trends. “All of these are possible because of a revolutionary porous novel material inside the box called metal-organic framework.”

A metal-organic framework (or MOF) is a highly porous material with internal cavities and channels that give it immense surface area. An MOF the size of a sugar cube has the internal surface area of a full football field, Yaghi said. “This high surface area ensures high capacity for the captured water.”

The device developed by Yaghi and his team is, strictly speaking, a box within a box. The internal box is filled with MOFs made up, in this case, of organic material and the expensive metal zirconium. The lid of the outer box is left open at night (when cool, humid air rushes in and is absorbed by the MOF), and closed during the day (when sunlight heats the box, the water molecules escape the MOF, and condense as droplets on the inside of the outer box). From there, Yaghi and his team manually collected the droplets with a pipette.

In a trial in Scottsdale, Arizona, the harvester yielded just about seven ounces of water — not enough to quench someone’s thirst but enough to show feasibility.

“This [device] is especially important for regions where access to clean water is limited,” Yaghi said. “My vision is to achieve ‘personalized water,’ where people in water-stressed regions have a device at home running on ambient solar, delivering the water that satisfy the basic needs of the individuals.”

He acknowledged the many steps ahead before such a device could come to market — including scaling up the device to capture more vapor and experimenting with newer, cheaper MOFs — but Yaghi is optimistic that such technology could someday provide potable water for people in need.

Product Review

Miele's TWI180 dryer has one job, but struggles to get it done

Miele’s Heat-Pump Dryer is a compact machine that steams your clothes by recycling the water collected during the drying process. But how well does this technique work for getting clothes dry?
Product Review

Samsung's Galaxy S10 phones are its most refined yet. Be prepared to pay up

Samsung has unveiled its lineup for its most popular smartphones, and it includes the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. The two flagship phones boast hole-punch cameras, fingerprint sensors embedded in the display, and beefier batteries.

The Powerbeats3 wireless earphones are $110 off for Presidents’ Day

There area a lot of benefits of having wireless headphones, including Bluetooth capability and water resistance, to name just two. Beats makes some of the best, and its $200 Powerbeats3 wireless earphones are more than half off right now on…
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.
Emerging Tech

FDA warns about the dangers of anti-aging blood transfusions

It turns out injecting old people with blood from healthy youngsters may not be the answer to health rejuvenation. That’s according to the FDA, which says such claims are dangerous junk science.
Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.
Emerging Tech

DeepSqueak is a machine learning A.I. that reveals what rats are chatting about

Want to know what rats are squeaking about? You'd better check out DeepSqueak, the new deep learning artificial intelligence developed by researchers at the University of Washington.
Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.