Solar panels reportedly used to ‘make water out of the air’ and grow crops in the desert

Scientists in Saudi Arabia developed a solar-powered system that successfully draws water from the air while producing electricity using a novel hydrogel. 

A WEC2P system consists of a solar photovoltaic panel mounted on top of a layer of hydrogel, which is mounted on top of a large metal box to condense and collect water.

Senior author Peng Wang, an environmental science and engineering professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and his colleagues previously developed the hydrogel, which can effectively absorb water vapor from ambient air and release the water content when heated. 

A hydrogel is a 3-D network of hydrophilic polymers. The hydrophilicity of the networks is due to the presence of Amines, Carboxyl, and Hydroxy type of hydrophilic groups.

The researchers used waste heat generated by solar panels to drive absorbed water out of the hydrogel. The vapor is collected and condensed into water in the metal box below. Alternatively, by absorbing heat and lowering the temperature of the panels, the hydrogel increases the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels by up to 9%.

During the experiments, the solar panel, about the size of a student desk produced 5.4 Mega joules of electricity, and, approximately 2 liters of water was condensed from the hydrogel. The team also planted 60 water Spinach seeds, being irrigated by water collected from the air. 95% grown to a normal size of 18 centimeters, for two weeks.

“A fraction of the world’s population still lacks access to clean water or green energy, and many of them live in rural areas with arid or semi-arid climates,” says Wang. “Our design extracts water from air using clean energy that would otherwise be wasted, and it is suitable for decentralized, small-scale farms in remote places like deserts and oceanic islands,” he added. 

The team has a vision of creating an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production. Particularly, the water-creating component in their project makes sure their goal is to access clean and affordable water and energy and to develop sustainably.

“I’m hoping that our design can be a decentralized power and water system for lighting homes and watering crops.” The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology provided financial assistance to the researchers.




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