A team spearheaded by GE Research received a multi-million dollar contract to create 3D printed devices that absorb/collect moisture from the atmosphere and transform it into clean drinking water as part of DARPA’s Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program.
The prototypes — which might end up supplying water to more or less 150 soldiers, even in scorching environments — will use heat exchange principles to extract water from the air, a 3DPrint.com report explains.
Efficient air-water extraction would be a great boon to the U.S. Military as it would cut the need to invest in building water supply chains for missions in remote environments and far-flung places
However, most atmospheric water extraction devices today work on the same laws as dehumidifiers in a stock air conditioning unit, meaning they are bulky and don’t function in arid environments.
Bearing this in mind, AWR’s goal is to develop smaller, lighter, and more efficient atmospheric water extraction devices.
Ultimately, the $14.3 million project aims to develop a portable water absorber that can be carried by 4 soldiers and can supply 150 individuals with drinking water.
3D printing heat exchangers are searching for the perfect absorbents. AIR2WATER, one of five teams to be awarded funding, is developing coating materials called “sorbents,” in addition to the 3D printed heat exchangers to make the sorbents more effective.
Chemical engineers at the University of Berkeley and the University of South Alabama are working on finding the perfect sorbents — a material that can extract liquids without absorbing them.
Meanwhile, GE Research’s team will develop carefully adapted 3D printed heat exchangers that transfer heat to the sorbent material. This heat primarily works as a release mechanism for the sorbent materials that instigate them to release the water that has been absorbed.
The research adds to the up-and-coming and futuristic field of air-water extraction. Last month, we reported on an advance that saw researchers from the National University of Singapore convert air into clean water using a smart aerogel.
In fact, AIR2WATER’s U.S. Military prototype has immense potential for gradually being employed on the civilian market, where it could help inhabitants of remote towns and villages to gain access to much-needed clean water.