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Major water shortages are becoming more and more prevalent across our planet, with over a billion people already suffering from water scarcity. 

Now, researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have joined the fight to find solutions. The team has created a substance that pulls water from air without using any external power sources. 

Their study was published in Science Advances.

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Our Earth’s freshwater is a finite source, so researchers and scientists are looking for ways to provide more clean water for our planet’s residents. 

One such way that’s gathering traction, but has yet to become commonplace, is extracting water from air. This is what the NUS researchers set out to do, and achieved. 

The team created a sort of ultra-light aerogel that looks and works a little like a sponge, but doesn’t need to be squeezed to let out water it absorbs from the air around it. Moreover, it doesn’t need a battery to extract the water it draws in. 

The NUS team and its aerogel system. Source: NUS

On a humid day, such as those in Singapore, 2.2 pounds (one kg) of aerogel will produce 17 liters of water a day.

The trick lies in the polymers — long molecules — that build up in the aerogel. This polymer has a chemical structure that draws in water as well as repels it. Thus, the “smart” aerogel attracts water molecules from the air, condenses them into a liquid, and lets out the water. 

On top of that, when there’s enough sunshine, the aerogel acts even more quickly to repel the water from it — turning 95% of the water vapor from the aerogel into liquid water.

The team ensured its water complied with the World Health Organization‘s standards for drinking water.

“Given that atmospheric water is continuously replenished by the global hydrological cycle, our invention offers a promising solution for achieving sustainable freshwater production in a variety of climatic conditions, at minimal energy cost,” said Professor Ho Ghim Wei from the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

NUS isn’t the only team working hard to extract water from air. Startups around the world are using their technology and biology skills to create other machines that manage the same task. And well-established companies like Procter & Gamble are creating coalitions to battle this pressing issue, such as with its 50L Home.

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