After the hottest and driest year on record, Australia faced a bushfire crisis in late 2019 that burned approximately 25 million acres of land across the country.
Dozens of people died and millions of animals perished due to the blazes, the extreme drought and the searing temperatures.
Australia’s bushfire tragedy and countless other incidents of drought around the world mean that innovations in water technology are all the more precious and timely.
That’s why recent findings at the University of Limerick, in mid-western Ireland, are showing some promising applications to solving potential global water and bushfire crises.
After ten years of research, Professor Michael Zaworotko, alongside Molecule RND Ltd., an investment firm and product incubator, have released information about a new nano-material that could revolutionise dehumidification systems and water generation.
Named Regeneration Optimized Sorbent 37, or ROS-037 for short, the new silica-based material is used to create water out of thin air.
It may sound like science fiction, but the researchers say that the new product converts humidity in the atmosphere into water. Because of its efficiency in converting water vapour, it could one day be applied to extreme desert conditions and to grow crops in dry conditions.
What is water capturing technology used for?
Similar materials to ROS-037, known as desiccants, have long been used commercially. The silica-based materials act to absorb water vapour and lower humidification levels in buildings.
To date, water capturing technology has been used to solve heat problems in buildings and city centres. Congested urban areas are sometimes affected by trapped heat, which creates “city heat island effects” that can lead to health problems. Dehumidification systems help remove the humidity from the air which can in turn supply buildings and homes with water.
Highly efficient desiccants have other potential applications, too. By capturing water in the atmosphere, it could be possible to grow crops in desert areas that lack access to resting bodies of water. Zaworotko points out that water in the atmosphere is “infinitely renewable” since water that’s taken out of the air is then recycled out of the ocean.
Such applications may drastically improve the situations when drought-prone countries experience climatic conditions that bring high heat levels, like those faced recently by Australia.
Conventional desiccants haven’t been powerful or adaptable enough to be used in cutting-edge circumstances to reduce drought. Fortunately, that’s where the new ROS-037 really shines.
How does ROS-037 work?
ROS-037 is a low-energy nano-material that captures water. Repeating nano-scopic units are featured in the material. Importantly, the design is highly efficient, especially when compared to conventional desiccants.
Normally, heat is required to dry out the water vapour during the dehumidification cycle. The high temperatures are a big deterrent for larger commercial applications of the technology. However, operating temperatures of the new material are just 49 degrees, compared to the conventional temperatures of 200+ degrees in similar materials.
Because of its microscopic size, the spores of the material’s sponge-like design also act as a purifier. Contaminants are strained out during the atmospheric dehumidification process, leaving usable water as a by-product.
New technologies can solve global crises
ROS-037 is a great example of academic research and industry coming together to make promising new products to solve real-world problems such as the bushfire crisis. Kurt Francis, CTO at Molecule RND Ltd. says that the project “is making decentralised water a reality while also having massive implications for the HVAC industry globally.”
Professor Zaworotko adds that the new silica product can help NGOs and governments alike because it “reduces the energy consumption of traditional dehumidifiers, enabling them to be transformed into water generating equipment, thus helping the global energy efficiency and water crises.”
The United Nations estimates that two billion people are at risk of losing their access to fresh water. The climate crisis and rising global temperatures only make matters worse. New water technologies could be the key to alleviating some of the problems faced by drought-prone countries that lack access to sustainable bodies of groundwater.
The new ROS-037 silica could one day be applied in efficient systems for harvesting water. To alleviate drought conditions where it’s needed most, the possibilities for the new material are endless. And, because of the silica product’s efficiency, mobile and solar-powered options may be possible in the future.
Innovative new water technologies are showing us what’s possible to boost agricultural productivity and alleviate drought conditions around the world. New discoveries like ROS-037 also shed light on how to revolutionise preventative measures when firestorms and wildfires rage in places like Australia.