IIT-Guwahati develops method to harvest water from air

Researchers claim their pitcher plant-inspired water harvester has high efficiency and can be used in underwater hulls of ships and submarines to prevent bio-fouling

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A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-G) has developed a pitcher plant-inspired inexpensive method for harvesting water from humid air.

The method, developed by spraying a sponge-like porous polymeric material on a simple A4 printer paper, can also used in underwater hulls of ships and submarines to prevent bio-fouling as well as to prevent icing on aircraft windows, the researchers said.

The results of the water-harvesting technique, developed by the team led by Uttam Manna of IIT-G’s Chemistry Department and the Centre of Nanotechnology, was published in the journal of The Royal Society of Chemistry.

According to Dr. Manna, scientists worldwide have been trying to build technologies mimicking plants and insects that can “pull out water from thin air”, both literally and figuratively.

“Such water harvesting techniques use the concept of hydrophobicity or water-repelling nature of some materials such as the lotus leaf”, he said on Tuesday.

But such simple hydrophobicity is unsuitable for water harvesting from highly humid environments because high moisture content can displace the trapped air and cause permanent damage. Researchers have thus taken inspiration from the insect-eating pitcher plant that has a slippery surface making insects that land on it to fall into its tube-shaped structure to be digested.

The IIT-G researchers used the concept of chemically patterned slippery liquid-infused porous surface, or SLIPS for the first time to effectively harvest water from moist or foggy air.

“We have produced a highly efficient water harvesting interface where the fog collecting rate is high”, Dr. Manna said.

The researchers also compared the performance of their pitcher-plant inspired SLIPS materials to other bio-inspired ideas and found theirs to be superior in terms of efficiency of water harvesting.

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