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How scientists grew spinach in the desert by harvesting water out of thin air

How scientists grew spinach in the desert by harvesting water out of thin air


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Growing Spinach In A Desert

In Saudi Arabia, some 50 miles north of Jeddah, 57 seeds sprouted into healthy, seven-inch-tall water spinach leaves by harvesting water out of thin air.

Like all conventional crops, spinach needs water to grow. But, in this case, the spinach sprouted thanks to a solar-powe...

The Desert Crop Experiment

The prototype used during the experiment consists of three main components: a small-scale photovoltaic panel, a composite material made of hydrogel (a high-tech version of the hydrogel used in bandages to re-hydrate wounds), calcium chloride (the kind of salt we use to de-ice roads), plus a metal...

How The Prototype Works

Like most conventional solar panels, 10-20% of the solar energy they absorb is converted to electricity. The remaining 80-90% is converted to heat. The hydrogel material—think of it as a layer of jelly attached to the backside of the solar panel—plays a dual role. First, it can cool the solar pan...

Water In Saudi Arabian Desert

Deserts may be dry, but that’s not to say there are no moisture particles in the air. The relative humidity in the region revolves around 40%, but Wang says it’s closer to 80% at night. As a result, the hydrogel material typically absorbs water vapour during the evening and at night.

Overnight Result

By the morning, the material is saturated with moisture, so when the sun hits the solar panels, and the heat from the solar panels comes into contact with the material, it turns the moisture into vapour and drives it out of the hydrogel layer. The metal box below then collects the vapour and cond...

The Bottom Line

There are many steps before the system can be commercialized.

The scientists need to find industrial collaborators who can manufacture the system cost-effectively it could be used in off-grid communities around the world.

For a single household living in the mountain, or a very small...

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