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Solar-Powered Device That Sucks Moisture From Air Can Save Millions From Water-Related Diseases

14 April 2017, 10:16 pm EDT By Allan Adamson Tech Times
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Diarrhea and other water-related diseases affect people living in regions where water is scarce. These illnesses can be potentially averted using a new device that can harvest water even with low humidity.  ( Matt Cardy | Getty Images )

A sponge-like device that uses the power of sunlight to harvest water vapor from air even in areas with low humidity such as deserts could be an answer to the world's water scarcity problem.

Solar-Powered Water Harvester

The device offers hope for people living in the driest parts of the world whose health are impacted by lack of sufficient water. A solar-powered appliance that can deliver water in dry regions may even help save lives by averting water-related diseases.

The device can currently produce almost 3 liters of water daily for each kilogram of water-absorbing material that it contains, and researchers said future versions could work even better.

"We report the design and demonstration of a device based on porous metal-organic framework-801 [Zr6O4(OH)4(fumarate)6] that captures water from the atmosphere at ambient conditions using low-grade heat from natural sunlight below one sun," Hyunho Kim, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues who developed the device wrote in their report published in the journal Science on Thursday, April 13.

Water Scarcity And Water-Related Diseases

Figures from the World Health Organization show that at least 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that are contaminated with feces. Contaminated water is known to transmit diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, polio, and typhoid.

WHO estimates that diarrhea alone that is caused by viral, parasitic, and bacterial organisms from contaminated water supplies kills 842,000 and sickens about 4 billion people per year. In 1998, the disease killed 2.2. million individuals.

Schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasitic worms that are contracted through exposure to infested water, also affects 240 million people.

WHO said that water scarcity increases chances of people contracting these water-related diseases.

"Where water is not readily available, people may decide handwashing is not a priority, thereby adding to the likelihood of diarrhoea and other diseases," WHO said.

Among the key ways to help reduce cases of diarrhea and other water-related diseases is to provide people access to clean water, which, unfortunately, is easier said than done.

In Ethiopia, for instance, people walk for up to six hours to find and collect water during periods of drought because their water sources such as springs and ponds have dried up. The remaining water sources also tend to be heavily contaminated by human and animal feces.

The drought results in proliferation of water-related diseases, as people have to rely on contaminated and stagnant water sources.

New Device May Make Water More Accessible To Dry And Drought-Stricken Areas

The new device developed by MIT researchers offers hope in that it is capable of wringing water from air even in areas with low humidity. Researchers said that the device can produce liters of water in areas where humidity is as low as 20 percent, which is about the same as the humidity in most deserts.

The device may one day become a household fixture in poorer parts of the world where water is scarce, allowing people to produce their own drinking water rather than walking far distances to fetch water or rely on available but contaminated water sources.

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