An exciting new innovation that uses solar power to extract water from the air to grow vegetables could provide a major boost for food and water security in the world’s most remote and arid regions.
The ‘solar-driven’ system being developed by scientists in Saudi Arabia works by using a unique hydrogel that is placed under a solar panel to absorb water vapour, which it can then release as water content when heated.
Making sure everyone on Earth has access to clean water and affordable clean energy is part of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.
“A fraction of the world’s population still doesn’t have access to clean water or green power, and many of them live in rural areas with arid or semi-arid climate,” says senior author Peng Wang, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). “Our design makes water out of air using clean energy that would’ve been wasted and is suitable for decentralised, small-scale farms in remote places like deserts and oceanic islands.”
During a typically hot June fortnight in Saudia Arabia the proof-of-concept system, called WEC2P, was used, with the result that 57 of 60 water spinach seeds ‘sprouted and grew normally’.
“Our goal is to create an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production, especially the water-creation part in our design, which sets us apart from current agrophotovoltaics,” added Wang. “I hope our design can be a decentralised power and water system to light homes and water crops.”
Next, the scientists plan to progress the proof-of-concept design, described today in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, into a commercial product by developing an improved hydrogel capable of absorbing larger amounts of water from the air.