Water from air: University of Sydney's new nano-technology

A new nano-technology from the University of Sydney can literally extract water out of thin air.

Plants use nano-technology to bead almost perfect spheres of water, cleaning away dust and bacteria. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The technology, called Advanced Capture Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA), could supply millions of litres of water in typically arid regions dealing with major water scarcity issues.

Based on a new nano-material developed by a team of researchers led by Prof. Chiara Neto and Prof. Martijn de Sterke, ACWA is garnering significant commercial interest after recently winning the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge.

The new material operates by accelerating and channelling water condensation from the atmosphere without requiring any energy or chemical inputs.

Nano-technologies are created on the nano scale (a nanometre is one million times smaller than a millimetre), a branch of science and engineering that manipulates materials at the atomic or molecular level.

Diagram of the new ACWA water harvesting technology

The ACWA technology is made by using extremely hydrophilic (water attracting) material sections to encourage atmospheric water to condense and accumulate. These sections are interlaced with extremely hydrophobic (water repelling) material sections that channel the collected water into a reservoir.

The material could be coated on many types of structures with large surface areas (such as high rise buildings) allowing them to passively collect water and by doing so add approximately one litre of water per square meter per day to our water supply.

As is often the case, nature already uses this technology, with the Namib Desert Beetle using exactly the same nano-properties in its shell to collect water from desert atmospheres and channel that water to its mouth.

The Namib Desert Beetle uses similar nano-technology to collect and funnel water to its mouth. Source: Martin Harvey

Many plant species also use hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials to control the water from their environment to keep their leaves clean from dust and microbes.

The new ACWA technology demonstrates the exciting potential for nanotechnologies to revolutionise the water industry and solve many of the world’s difficult water supply issues.

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