A company has devised a way to extract moisture from the air using technology inspired by nature.
With an annual rainfall of about 1.5 cm, the Namib desert is one of the most arid places on earth and, in order to live there, plants and animals have had to develop extremely efficient mechanisms to collect and conserve water. Take the Namib Desert Beetle, for example, which is able to extract its water supply from early morning fog. Each day, the little beetle scrambles to the top of a sand ridge and stretches out its wings against the damp breeze. The wings have moisture-attracting (hydrophilic) bumps that collect minuscule fog droplets which then trickle into moisture-repellant (hydrophobic) troughs that direct the water into the beetle’s mouth.
It’s certainly an unusual method of obtaining water and it’s also one that U.S. start-up NBD Nano believes may be able to be scaled up to provide a supply of potable water in arid areas. The company plans to create water-extraction devices that combine superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic surfaces in order to pull water from the air – in much the same way the Namib Desert Beetle does. The company has already devised a conceptual self-filling water bottle that uses a fan to channel air over the water collecting surfaces where it then condenses. And, according to NBD co-founder Deckard Sorensen, the small amount of electricity the process requires can be obtained from a solar cell.
“We see this being applicable to anything from marathon runners to people in third-world countries, because we realize that water is such a large issue in the world today, and we want to try to alleviate those problems with a cost-efficient solution,” Sorenson told PRI. “We are looking to incorporate this in greenhouses or green roofs in the immediate future, and then later on, we’re looking to see how far we can really scale this up to supply maybe farms or larger agricultural goals.”
Whether or not NBD’s designs will actually be able to produce water in an energy-efficient manner remains to be seen. The company is still in the R&D phase and its products are still conceptual. It is, however, certainly an interesting idea and, if it does indeed work, the technology could be a real help to the 800 million people who are without access to clean, safe water.