Summer heat waves are really tough, isn’t it? They dry up your skin and fade your face. What about getting water from the hot summer air to satisfy your thirst? Is it really crazy? One can think of many ways to tap the humidity or wetness of the air around us. The easiest way, is, of course, condensation as we get natural showers from the clouds. What really makes the condensation of water vapor is the presence of ‘favorable’ atmospheric conditions and aerosols effectively as the micro-nuclei. Though it is a naturally happening simple process, it is quite difficult to replicate by humans!
With the advancement of science and technology, people are becoming more exploitative and they have lost all compassion and regard for the existing natural system. Scientists are becoming more crazy to think that they will be able to replace the creator with their ‘self-developed’ or ‘computer-facilitated’ intelligence, and the rage is widely spreading in all domains of life. A little bit of genuine thinking on the nature and extent of the prevailing problems at large faced by humanity at present will give us clear indications that all that is called ‘development’ is not so progressive, but in a degrading trend. When we lose all natural emotions of sympathy and belongingness to the rest of the creations in the world, what is the point of increasing the ‘status of life’?
Water has been a very critical issue for people to deal with, as it is the most essential component in everyone’s daily life, it is natural, it is free and it is prone to contamination and exploitation. With the blind implementations of developmental projects, we have destroyed all the natural resources and caused the common people to struggle for safe drinking water. Of course, one can blame the natural calamities and geographical variations, but it is important to realize that we are also accelerating them with our stupid interventions, actually not solving any problems.
Having accepted the defeat of not devoting ourselves to solving the problem of clean and safe drinking water supply to the entire population and continuing the economic development plans to function, the latest news is about exploiting the water molecules present in the air and collecting them to solve the drinking water problem. It again comes from the idea that only human beings are the ‘intended’ customers of this entire universe and others should live at our cost. What a crazy idea! It is not that the atmospheric scientists and climate scientists are not aware of the long-lasting consequences of such projects – how much imbalance this is going to cause to the climate, which has already sufficiently disturbed us, but research is ongoing.
Considering the technical aspects of the project, the researchers claim that they were successful in extracting crystal-clear water from the hot atmospheric air and making it potable using solar energy. They also claim that it is a revolutionary breakthrough that is set to bring considerable relief to populations struggling to meet the demand for drinking water. The developed device consists of a thin air trap with a transparent condensation cover and a molecularly engineered hydrogel device, which creates clean water using just the energy from sunlight. They found that the device is able to produce between 3.5 and 7 kilograms of water per kilogram of gel materials, the quantity depending on the humidity in the air.
Now hear the explanation given by the chief scientist, Prof. Guihua Yu, who is a professor in materials science and engineering in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and Texas Materials Institute of Cockrell School of Engineering. He says: “With our new hydrogel, we’re not just pulling water out of thin air. We’re doing it extremely fast and without consuming too much energy. What’s really fascinating about our hydrogel is how it releases water…. we could just use our temperatures’ natural ups and downs, no need to crank up any heaters”.
Based on the published article from the researchers, the device consists of a transparent condensation cover mounted inverted on a water collector at the bottom. It is further demonstrated that the water collector unit mounted below a shell of microgel and an insulation substrate aids and hastens the condensation process to allow water to condense on the inside of the condensation cover and drip into the collector below. The basic science behind this innovation is the process of condensation by utilizing the atmospheric humidity available in the air. The presence of microgels (prepared from the hydrogels) make the process very quick and release the collected water as soon as it is captured through multiple daily cycling of the process. One key aspect to be remembered here is that higher evaporation does not necessarily mean higher condensation. The higher the air temperature, the more water vapor it can “hold”, so more water vapor is needed to reach the 100% relative humidity needed for condensation.
Surprisingly, this is not the only attempt to tap the atmospheric vapor to quest the thirst. Atmospheric water generators (AWG) utilize passive methods (i.e. self-sustaining energy sources) for water vapor extraction but require a substantial amount of energy input to drive some of its processes. There are companies such as Skywater, Gr8water, and Airdrop Irrigation that have developed AWG technology for either drinking or agricultural purposes. There are also many atmospheric water extracting (AWE) devices working on the vapor compression refrigeration cycle.
The researchers are planning to scale it up to make the application easy for daily use across the world, especially in drought areas. Implications of the research in the future could include portable models and larger models to enable water collection in large tanks. As mentioned in the introduction, we can only imagine the disastrous impacts such innovations can bring about to the peaceful lives of all the living entities in this world