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Google lab proposes solar-powered moisture farming to provide water for billions

From Tatooine to Earth

Star Wars-style moisture farming could provide safe drinking water for approximately 1 billion people here on Earth, according to research from a Google-owned research lab.

Solar-powered atmospheric water harvesting is an untapped source of clean drinking water, a global assessment modelled on hypothetical devices has shown.

X Development, owned by Google-parent Alphabet, said that 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water worldwide, with the highest populations located in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

While engineers have spotted the potential of harvesting water from the atmosphere – a technique alluded to in the original Star Wars film as a means of survival on the arid planet of Tatooine – doubts have lingered about the efficiency of the approach because of low yields and low daytime relative humidity.

The boffins used data from Google Earth Engine, a multi-petabyte catalogue of satellite imagery and geospatial datasets, according to the Chocolate Factory, and analysed the operation and performance of hypothetical equipment described thus:

A one-metre-square device with a specific yield profile of 0.2 to 2.5 litres per kilowatt-hour (0.1 to 1.25 litres per kilowatt-hour for a two-metre-square device) at 30 per cent to 90 per cent relative humidity, respectively

"Such a device could meet a target average daily drinking water requirement of 5 litres per day per person," the research, published in Nature, stated.

X Development researchers Jackson Lord, Philipp Schmaelzle, Ashley Thomas, and colleagues used data from existing devices and new classes of materials used for absorbing moisture from the atmosphere. The outcome suggests targets for drinking water could be met with continued technological development.

"Indeed, these performance targets have been achieved experimentally in demonstrations of sorbent materials," the peer-reviewed research paper said.

Deployed widely in regions with about 30 per cent relative humidity – around two-thirds of people without safe drinking water live in the tropics – the proposal could help serve the drinking water needs of around 1 billion people.

All the Chocolate Factory needs to do now is find a droid that speaks Bocce and the binary language of moisture vaporators. ®

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