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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-powered system that pulled vapour from the air and condensed it into two litres of water.
Now published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, the results of the experiment suggest that small farms in remote, arid regions can grow their own crops without a water supply.
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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...
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...
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.
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...
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