MIT's new technologies for extracting drinking water from the air

Operating out of MIT the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) is an initiative that coordinates and promotes research related to water and food safety and security.

This year amongst the new projects being supported by J-WAFS two stand out: the first centres around harvesting water from air, whilst the second tackles technology that enhances crop production.

This proof-of-concept device, built at MIT, demonstrates a new system for extracting drinking water from the air. (Image via Dr. Evelyn Wang and Dr. Mircea Dinca/Community Jameel)

Securing clean drinking water is a challenge in many regions of the world, especially so in the MENA - the world’s driest region - where more than half of the region's population lives under conditions of ‘water stress’, according to the World Bank. One of the new projects backed by J-WAFS is seeking to develop a new technology that addresses this problem. The initiative will create a passive solar device that can extract clean, fresh water from the air at any range of humidity, using a metal-organic framework (MOF), a specialized porous material, enabling remote areas to access water supplies at a fracture of the infrastructure cost.

Enhancing crop production while supporting environmentally sustainable farming practices in developing countries was also a key theme this year, as two J-WAFS projects are addressing challenges around nitrogen fertilizer which is required for agricultural productivity. A solar-powered electrochemical device is in the works which can convert nitrogen from air, water, and sunlight into ammonia to be added to the soil to promote plant growth. Christopher Voigt, a professor of biological engineering is pursuing a different solution which aims to engineer cereal grains that can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, if successful these grains could become self-fertilizing high-yield producers.

Established in 2003 Community Jameel has branded itself as a social enterprise organization that seeks to benefit the lives of disadvantaged peoples in the Middle East and beyond by enabling research into poverty alleviation and food and water security. It’s president, Fady Mohammed Jameel has recently stated: “Community Jameel firmly believes that MIT-led research can deliver real solutions to help communities transform themselves.”

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