Solar Energy Hydrogel:
Using solar energy hydrogel and what they call “super sponges,” a team of engineers at the University of Texas at Austin has developed a clean and potentially savior magic trick: get water out of the air.
Sponges are actually hydrogels, hybrid polymer and gel materials that are designed to contain substantial amounts of water. The Texas team focused on combining the capabilities of a specially absorbent hydrogel known as hygroscopic polypyrrole chloride with one that reacts to heat called isopropylacrylamide. It is a mouthful, but the two combined are able to function in humid and dry climatic conditions and have been proven to draw water from the atmosphere.
The machines have used atmospheric water before, such as the FreshWater machine from Chile. These hydrogels have also been used for absorption: hygroscopic compounds are normally used in refrigeration. In fact, the team created something similar in 2018, an innovation in water purification using solar energy that uses hydrogels that cleanse water from any source. But by using the water that already exists in the atmosphere, the team was able to improve its own work and existing technology.
Given the increasing threat of drought worldwide due to climate change, the 50,000 cubic kilometers contained in the atmosphere is a tempting target for relief. The prototypes showed a daily water production of up to 50 liters per kilogram of hydrogel.
“We have developed a completely passive system in which all you need to do is leave the hydrogel outside and collect water,” said Fei Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the study, in a press release. “The collected water will remain stored in the hydrogel until it is exposed to sunlight. After about five minutes under natural sunlight, the water is released. ”
The research team led by Guihua Yu has already moved to patent the machine. With future advances, the technology could replace the existing water purification systems with solar energy. The article on the findings of the study has been published in the journal Advanced Materials.
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