Researchers have designed a new material that can help provide clean water, by absorbing moisture in the air.

Photo Credit: Rice University

Photo Credit: Rice University

As the climate changes, scientists are becoming increasingly worried about providing enough water for humans and crops, especially in drier regions. Researchers from Rice University found a solution by observing how desert animals adapt to their environment. They took inspiration from the Namib beetle, which sucks water out of the air during morning fog, to create a new material that may serve as a solution to the growing concern. 

The researchers used a set of carbon nanotubes, which are just a few nanometers wide and a centimeter long. These were applied with a water repellant called superhydrophobic to the bottom "forest" of the tubes, and coated the top and sides with hydrophilic. With the help of gravity and capillary action, the tubes suck water out of the air and spread it through the forest. 

The material was able to absorb about 80 percent of its weight in water over a 13 hour period in a humid climate. In drier air and a shorter time frame, it was able to absorb 27 percent of its weight in water. 

“It doesn’t require any external energy, and it keeps water inside the forest,” said graduate student Sehmus Ozden, the first author of the study published in Applied Materials and Interfaces.

The problem, however, is that the method used in this study cannot be used at a larger scale. Researchers are now looking for new methods to absorb water to help provide water for larger groups, such as entire families or towns.