Introducing Hydrogel, a New Technology to Address Water Scarcity

Hydrogel technology developed by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin has the ability to convert summer air into drinking water, as quoted from Science Daily on Wednesday (20/9/2023).

Water scarcity is a serious issue for much of the world’s population, but with appropriate equipment, drinking water can be easily obtained. Recently, an innovative technology has been successfully designed to tackle water scarcity.

For years, researchers have emphasized the utilization of moisture in the air as a viable source of drinking water for communities facing drought.

Hydrogel’s ability to produce water

A significant achievement of the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that molecularly engineered hydrogels can produce pure water by harnessing sunlight.

Researchers have been able to produce drinking water from the air using solar energy, even at temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius, which are common in the summer in Texas and much of the world.

This means that in hot areas with limited access to clean water, communities can easily utilize hydrogel devices to produce water.

These devices can produce between 3.5 and 7 kilograms of water per kilogram of gel material, depending on humidity conditions.

“With our latest hydrogel, we can not only extract water from thin air, but also do it quickly and efficiently, with minimal energy consumption,” said Guihua Yu, professor of materials science and engineering at the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Texas Materials Institute.

“What’s intriguing about our hydrogel is how it releases water. Just imagine, during hot Texas summers, we can leverage natural temperature changes without the need for additional heaters,” he continued.

Microgels can absorb water quickly

A key feature of this research is the ability of hydrogel to transform into micro particles called ‘microgels.’ These microgels enhance speed and efficiency, making the device more practical.

“By converting hydrogel into micro particles, we can significantly enhance the capture and release of water very quickly,” said Weixin Guan, a graduate student in Yu’s laboratory and one of the research leaders.

“This brings about a highly efficient new absorption technology and can significantly increase water production in multiple daily cycles,” he added.

Researchers are currently working to further enhance this technology for commercialization.

One major focus is optimizing microgel engineering to further improve efficiency.

Inexpensive materials for hydrogel production

As quoted from New Atlas on Wednesday (20/9/2023), this gel is made from two inexpensive and common main ingredients, namely cellulose derived from plant cell walls, and konjac gum, a frequently used food additive.

Both components work together to form a gel film capable of absorbing water from the air and releasing it as needed, without requiring much energy. !!!!!!!!!

Firstly, the porous gum structure attracts water from the surrounding air. Meanwhile, cellulose, in contrast, is designed to respond to gentle heat by releasing captured water.

The process of making this gel is also quite simple, according to the research team. The base ingredients are mixed together, then poured into a mold and left for two minutes.

After that, the gel is dried by freezing, then released from the mold and ready for use. This gel can be shaped as needed, and the enhancement process is quite straightforward and economical.