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Incredible new gel film transforms air into drinking water

Published May 25th, 2022 6:00PM EDT
Filling up a glass with drinking water from kitchen tap
Image: Dmitry Naumov / Adobe

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Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a water harvesting gel capable of pulling buckets of water out of thin air. What makes this gel so intriguing, and possibly revolutionary, is its low cost and easy creation process.

This new water harvesting gel can literally pull water from thin air

How it looks from the side
This gel could create pitchers of water for families every day. Image source: Amazon Basics

The water harvesting gel is so cheap to make thanks to its two primary ingredients. The first, cellulose, comes from the cell walls of plants. As such, it’s widely available and easy to obtain. The second ingredient, konjac gum, is a food additive that is widely used throughout the world.

The two ingredients combine together to make the gel film that is responsible for absorbing water from the air. Once absorbed, too, the gel can easily release it without requiring much energy to do so. But how does it work?

According to the paper the researchers published in Nature Communications, the porous structure of the gun attracts the water in the air around it. It then condenses inside the gel, storing it. To release it, though, all you need to do is apply gentle heat to the cellulose. When met with gentle heat, the cellulose turns hydrophobic and releases the captured water. This allows the water harvesting gel to do its job.

During tests, the water harvesting gel was able to absorb 13 liters (3.4 gallons) of water per day in an area with a humidity of 30 percent. Even when the humidity dropped to 15 percent, the gel produced more than 6 liters (1.6 gallons) a day. The researchers also believe they can improve the efficiency of the gel, which would make it able to absorb even more water from the air around it.

Making the gel

how researchers made water harvesting gelImage source: Guo, Y., Guan, W., Lei, C. et al

How it works is impressive. But the most impressive thing about this cheap water harvesting gel, is that it’s easy to make, too.

The researchers say that all you need to do to make the gel is mix the basic ingredients together. Once mixed, you pour the ingredients into a mold and it has to set for two minutes. From there, they freeze-dried the product and peeled it out of the mold.

At that point, the gel is ready to get to work. Plus, you can scale it easily and shape it any way you want.

We’ve seen similar water harvesters that draw water from the air in the past. But, because it’s so easily producible at a low cost, this water harvesting gel could be a revolutionary way to address the water scarcity plaguing our planet.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.