Technology 3 min read

Solar Powered Condenser Turns Ambient Humidity into Drinking Water

MIT and UC-Berkeley scientists have developed an incredibly efficient solar powered condenser that draws drinking water from even air with 20% humidity.

Pro_stock | Shutterstock.com

Pro_stock | Shutterstock.com

MIT and UC-Berkeley Scientists recently demonstrated a new device designed to collect water straight from ambient air using only solar power. This water harvester can even pull moisture in desert climates where humidity is as low as 20 percent.

At any moment, it’s estimated that atmosphere contains about 3,100 cubic miles of water vapor, which is enough to cover the entire surface of the Earth with one inch of water if it fell all at once. In addition to its most visible form, clouds, atmospheric water is also present in clear air and the entire system is recycled every nine days.

There is enough water in clear air to cover the entire Earth in an inch of rain.Click To Tweet

Now, scientists designed a system to exploit this astounding, untapped resource.

Solar Powered Condenser; Off-Grid Water Harvester

Researchers at MIT, in collaboration with the University of California Berkeley, have developed a prototype for a device that pulls water from clear air using solar power.

The device, reported in the journal Science, is an open air chamber containing a lattice-like structure made from a metal-organic framework (MOF), produced at the UC-Berkeley.

Wang Laboratory | MIT | MIT.edu

Rooftop tests showed that this solar powered condenser could work in real-world conditions. Over a 12 hour period, it was able to pull 2.8 liters of water under conditions 20-30% humidity, which is typical in arid areas such as the Mojave Desert.

“One vision for the future,” said Professor Omar Yaghi, at UC-Berkeley who calls the water obtained personalized water, “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.”

Air, Sustainable Source of Drinking Water

The United Nations estimates that over 10% of the global population (783 million people) doesn’t have access to clean water. By 2025, according to the UN-Water factsheets, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions affected by absolute water scarcity. By the same year, two-thirds of the global population could be living under water-stressed conditions.

Developing solutions to sanitize water and produce it where it is scarce is a major challenge for many countries. Numerous techniques and measures (optimization of distribution networks, construction of wells, filtration systems, etc.) already exist, but in order to accompany the increase in water needs, the diversification of supply resources is the only option in the long term. And there’s no resource more accessible than ambient air.

Other water harvesters have been developed through the years, but they only function when humidity is very high and are not energy-efficient. MIT’s portable device is a solar powered condenser and operates just about anywhere there’s air moisture. This could, potentially, bring drinking water to any place on the planet.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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