Scientists from Southern Federal University Create Device to Extract Water from Air in Arid Climates


2024-06-17 16:09:53



Researchers at the Southern Federal University (SFedU) in Russia have developed and created a prototype of an autonomous device capable of extracting water from atmospheric air, even in arid climates. The device operates using a special sorbent - a metal-organic framework polymer that absorbs water vapor from the air at night and releases it for collection during the day when moderately heated by sunlight.

The prototype installation created by SFedU scientists is already undergoing field tests in southern Russia. The invention aims to address the shortage of drinking water, primarily in African countries and poor nations of Southeast Asia, where necessary infrastructure such as water pipelines and treatment facilities are lacking.

Ilya Pankin, the head of the laboratory, shared, "The development of an autonomous generator of water from atmospheric air is primarily designed to solve the problem of drinking water scarcity in regions with arid and desert climates, as well as in regions lacking infrastructure - water pipelines and treatment facilities. First and foremost, we are talking about African countries and poor nations of Southeast Asia."

The sorbent at the heart of the device captures water due to its highly porous structure and large internal surface area. It can absorb water vapor even when the average daily humidity is less than 25%. The sorbent has a lifespan of 500 cycles, and the cost of the water produced is only 9-10 rubles per liter (approximately $0.12-0.14).

The water generator was developed by a team of scientists from the International Laboratory of New Educational Technologies at the International Research Institute of Intelligent Materials of SFedU, led by Ilya Pankin. The theoretical results on the modification of synthesis methods and the study of sorbent materials were published back in 2021 in the prestigious journal Inorganica Chimica Acta. To date, this scientific work has already received more than 25 citations, confirming its significance and relevance.

The creation of the device was preceded by years of research and optimization of the sorbent materials. The idea of extracting water from air, even in desert conditions, emerged among scientists quite some time ago - after the famous observation of African beetles published in the journal Nature in 2001. These beetles can survive in the Namib Desert by collecting morning dew that condenses on their bodies during temperature fluctuations. This inspired researchers to develop technologies for obtaining water from air.

The SFedU development has several advantages over alternative systems. Many analogues either require humidity of at least 50% (Warka Tower water towers) or consume a lot of energy to compress and cool air. In contrast, the device developed by SFedU scientists operates autonomously on solar energy and can extract water even when the average daily humidity is less than 25%.

Ilya Pankin noted, "Our development can absorb water at an average daily air humidity of even less than 25%. At such levels, some existing systems that work on the principle of compression to high pressures and cooling of large air masses are effective, but they require electricity, while our installation is completely autonomous."

The years-long work of SFedU scientists has culminated in the creation of a prototype of an autonomous installation that can provide drinking water to arid regions lacking the necessary infrastructure. From the initial idea inspired by observations of nature to the prototype, it has been a long journey of research and development. Now, this technology is ready for real-world application to improve the quality of life for people in the harshest climatic conditions.

The work was initiated with the support of the Innovation Promotion Fund of the Russian Federation. Along with laboratory head Ilya Pankin, senior researcher at the International Research Institute of Intelligent Materials Vera Butova (now a postdoc at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), research engineer Olga Burachevskaya, and graduate student Kristina Vetlitsina-Novikova worked on this project at various times.