08 December 2020 14:33:33 IST

IIT Guwahati researchers develop ways to harvest drinking water from air

Inexpensive method of harvesting water from vapour can potentially help water scarcity issues

Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, have developed novel materials that can efficiently harvest water from humid air. A research team led by Dr Uttam Manna, Associate Professor, Chemistry department and Centre of Nanotechnology, IIT Guwahati, along with his research scholars Kousik Maji, Avijit Das, and Manideepa Dhar, has published the results in the journal of The Royal Society of Chemistry.

“Such water-harvesting techniques use the concept of hydrophobicity or water-repelling nature of some materials”, explains Dr Manna. The concept of hydrophobicity can be understood by looking at the lotus leaf.

The lotus leaf is water repellent because there is a layer of trapped air between the leaf surface and the water droplet, which causes the droplet to slide off the leaf. However, simple hydrophobicity such as this, is unsuitable for water harvesting from highly humid environments because high moisture content can displace the trapped air and cause permanent damage. Instead, researchers mimic the pitcher plant, an ‘insect-eating’ plant, that has a slippery surface that causes insects that land on it to fall into its tube-shaped structure, to be digested. In the past geometries of Rice leaves and cactiare associated with ‘Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surface(s)’ or SLIPS to improve the water harvesting performance.

‘Bio-inspired ideas’

The research team from IIT Guwahati has used the concept of chemically patterned SLIPS for the first time, to effectively harvest water from moist air. The researchers produced a patterned hydrophilic SLIP by spraying a sponge-like porous polymeric material on top of a simple A4 printer paper. Further, chemically modulated hydrophilic spots were associated on the coating prior to lubricating with two distinct types of oils — natural olive oil and synthetic krytox. This surface could harvest water from foggy/water vapour laden air without the need for any cooling arrangement.

“We have produced a highly efficient water harvesting interface where the fog collecting rate is as high as 4400±190 mg/cm2/h,” says the lead researcher, Dr Uttam Manna. The researchers have also compared the performance of their pitcher-plant inspired SLIPS materials to other bio-inspired ideas and have found theirs to be superior in terms of efficiency of water harvesting.