Could this new Irish material help solve a global water crisis?

30 Oct 2019386 Views

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Prof Michael Zaworotko developed the crystalline material after decades of research. Image: Sean Curtin

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University of Limerick researchers are excited by a new material that can create water from thin air, even in the most remote of locations.

With UN estimates suggesting that 2bn people across the world are at risk of reduced access to fresh water and expectations this will surge in the face of a climate crisis, there is an urgent demand for new water technologies.

Now, researchers at the University of Limerick’s (UL) Bernal Institute have revealed a potentially revolutionary material that could help give fresh water to millions. This material, they said, can produce water from air, even in the most remote locations.

The crystalline material was discovered and produced by Molecule RND, an international think tank, research group and incubator fund located in UL to work in collaboration with Bernal’s Prof Michael Zaworotko.

It’s envisioned that the low-energy water capture material, dubbed ROS-037, could replace traditional silica in dehumidification systems in buildings.

“Silica has been used for a long time as a desiccant to pull water from the atmosphere, but it is not very efficient,” Zaworotko said. “If we replaced silica with this crystalline material, it would require substantially less energy to maintain air quality in buildings around the world.”

It could also be deployed in areas as a standalone system to harvest water for farming and drinking where it’s needed most.

‘A truly revolutionary, global solution’

“Even in zones of very low humidity on Earth, even in deserts, there is still some water in the atmosphere. This material could be applied to capture the water from the air, meaning you could potentially grow crops there,” Zaworotko added.

One of the key features of the new material is that it operates just like traditional harvesters, but can do so at 49 degrees Celsius instead of more than 200 degrees Celsius.

This inefficiency has held the technology back, the researchers said, but new developments could help turn dehumidifiers into water generators.

Bjorn Simundson, Molecule’s CEO, added: “One simple change, a new revolutionary material to replace the old silica, has the capacity to transform global power consumption and provide a new source of pure water, even in dry climates.

“The low temperature and efficiency is the key, making even mobile or solar powered solutions possible. I dare say it looks like we have developed a truly revolutionary, global solution for humanity and the planet as we enter the 21st century.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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