Harvest fresh water with innovative technologies & nature inspiration

Researcher finds inspiration from spider webs and beetles to harvest fresh water from thin air.

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The freshwater shortage is becoming a global issue due to changing climatic conditions, which has stimulated the development of all-weather water harvesting technologies.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo are developing innovative technologies to capture and convert water vapor in the air into liquid, inspired by nature. Dr. Tam is creating these technologies to address the global freshwater shortage, which traditionally comes from rivers, lakes, groundwater, and oceans.

They have created large-surface-area sponges or membranes that continuously capture moisture from their surroundings.

The new study focuses on biomimetic surface engineering for sustainable water harvesting, especially atmospheric water harvesting. They create surfaces that attract tiny water droplets while rapidly releasing larger ones using a cellulose-stabilized wax emulsion. 

Tam’s research group works with net zero carbon materials, such as natural and plant-based materials, to develop sustainable solutions that capture and repel water droplets using interfacial science and nanotechnology. They have created superhydrophobic and waterproof paper and are working on a smart and adjustable surface that captures and dehumidifies Water from the air with low energy consumption. The next stage is to create a scalable procedure for making such surfaces.

Solar evaporation devices immediately capture solar energy by absorbing Water and evaporating it to produce new collectible vapor. The smart biomimetic structural designs for solar evaporation were inspired by unique mushroom structures. These freshwater generation systems are inexpensive, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly. 

Tam, a University Research Chair in functional colloids and sustainable nanomaterials, said, “A spider’s web is an engineering marvel. The web efficiently captures Water. The spider doesn’t need to go to the river to drink, as it traps moisture from the air.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Yi Wang, Weinan Zhao, et al. Biomimetic surface engineering for sustainable water harvesting systems. Nature Water. DOI: 10.1038/s44221-023-00109-1