Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weird Hydrological Science

In the very first Star Wars film release (number IV in the story order) we meet Luke Skywalker as a very young man living with his aunt and uncle, who are water farmers on the desert planet. The family run wind stills, which pull water vapor from the arid atmosphere, producing water they sell to the dry planet's thirsty inhabitants. That was science fiction.

IEEE Spectrum, an engineering publication, reports the development of a device straight out of Star Wars. It describes the new invention:
The new device traps moisture at 20 percent relative humidity, which is the level common in arid areas and deserts of the world. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and MIT reported in the journal Science that their prototype was able to pull 2.8 liters of water from the air over a 12-hour period in experiments done at 20 percent humidity and simulated sunlight. Rooftop tests confirmed that it works in real-world conditions.
The device doesn't have to generate electricity as an intermediate step. It utilizes the heat energy in sunlight directly to completely power the device, which has no moving parts.

Imagine, a large example of this contraption could create an oasis where none existed, perhaps enough water to grow a few plants, and with no moving parts it could be left untended to, for instance, provide drinking water for grazing stock in dry savannah regions.

We need more such build-and-forget technologies, if that is what this turns out to be. It also could be a source of clean water in hot, humid climates where surface water is plentiful but unsafe, functioning as a solar-powered still.