Dune Fans! Metal-Organic Frameworks Make Science Fiction Real

An interesting new development from researchers at MIT may help people survive in the driest environments on Earth (or elsewhere?). The material can pull moisture out of the air; a kilogram of the material can capture several liters of water each day in 20% humidity air entirely passively - power required.


(Top to bottom, right, shows increase in water droplets)

A team at MIT developed the technology with Omar Yaghi’s laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The key component is a promising class of synthetic porous materials called metal-organic frameworks, composed of organic molecules stitched together with metal atoms, which Yaghi pioneered (see “A Better Way to Capture Carbon”). The size and chemical character of the material’s pores can be customized to capture particular types of molecules or allow them to flow through. The material also has a massive surface area, on the order of a football field per gram, enabling it to bond with a large quantity of particles.

The prototype bonds with water at night or in shade. But during the day, sunlight hitting the material adds enough energy to convert the water molecules into vapor. In turn, they slip out of the material’s pores and into an adjacent acrylic enclosure. A condenser at the bottom of the vessel collects the water droplets and funnels them into a chamber below, from which clean water can be collected.

Fans of Dune recall the chromoplastic dew collectors that passively pull water out of the air to keep little plants alive:

"Each bush, each weed you see out there in the erg," she said, "how do you suppose it lives when we leave it? Each is planted most tenderly in its own little pit. The pits are filled with smooth ovals of chromoplastic. Light turns them white. You can see them glistening in the dawn if you look down from a high place. White reflects. But when Old Father Sun departs, the chromoplastic reverts to transparency in the dark. It cools with extreme rapidity. The surface condenses moisture out of the air. That moisture trickles down to keep our plants alive."

"Dew collectors," he muttered, enchanted by the simple beauty of such a scheme.

Via Water harvesting from air with metal-organic frameworks powered by natural sunlight and technology review

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