New materials to capture atmospheric water


Every living being on our planet depends on water to a greater or lesser extent. For this reason, it is the first thing we look for in other places in the universe when we want to find traces of life. It is not surprising, therefore, that in nature there are numerous solutions to capture it: from the roots of plants to the needles of Californian redwoods or the shell of beetles in the Namibian desert. These last two examples are based on the great affinity that certain materials have when it comes to capturing atmospheric water. Redwoods, for example, can cover a third of their water needs in this way while beetles manage to survive in extremely dry conditions. As we saw recently, there are numerous technologies for capturing water from the air for human consumption. Now, a group of scientists from the University of Texas has improved the water harvesting process with the development of a surface that incorporates a hydrophilic lubricant.

According to the journal Science Advances, in which this improvement has been published, the key lies in the creation of slippery rough surfaces (SRS, for its acronym in English) that have hydrophilic properties and the ability to guide the movement of the drops that are on its surface in a certain direction. These rough slippery areas are much more efficient than those existing to date, based on liquid-infused porous slippery surfaces (slippery liquid-infused porous surface or SLIPS). But, before continuing, it is convenient to explain what exactly these acronyms consist of. SLIPS technology uses an innovative material with microscopic pores into which a lubricating fluid is introduced; In this way, it is possible to create a repellent and self-cleaning surface that not only repels water but also dust particles and polluting elements. Inspired by these materials as well as by the surface of the carapace of Namibian beetles and some carnivorous plants, the biomimicry of SRS technology goes a step further and enhances the accumulation of larger droplets while allowing them to be redirected in the desired direction. .

The two fundamental qualities of this technological innovation are, therefore, the ability to attract droplets and form larger ones, as happens with the shell of beetles, and to offer an extremely slippery surface, a characteristic of carnivorous plants. To do this, the researchers have resorted to hydroxyl groups, organic functional groups with a high hydrophilic capacity that are the basis of the lubricant used. In addition, the material on which the lubricant is applied has nanotextures that offer directional mobility to the drops.

The researchers' calculations indicate that the new surface could collect up to 120 liters of water per square meter per day. Apart from capturing atmospheric water, the SRS system has numerous applications: it can be used in air conditioners, industrial systems or as a cover on ship hulls to prevent the accumulation of debris.

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