Abu Dhabi, UAE: Taking inspiration from a desert beetle, engineering students in Abu Dhabi University (ADU) have devised a method to produce water out of thin air – literally.
A group of students, called “Nerdy Ninjas”, was picked as a finalist for their “Hydro-Solar Hybrid Plant”, a water-from-air harvester designed to generate water from fog or humidity powered by the sun.
German industrial company Siemens picked up the team’s pioneering idea entry on August 20 from among 78 submitted by students from various Middle East universities.
“We are really delighted to be on the top 20 list of semi-finalists,” Hashim Al Sakkaf, a senior electrical engineering student at ADU and the team’s leader.
“We think,” he said, “our system holds a huge promise in Gulf countries, where entire cities – like Abu Dhabi or Dubai – can often disappear in fog, but where there’s little rain.”
Dr Mohammad Akmal, a professor at ADU and mentor of the three-member team, said: “We are looking forward to this project being selected as one of the top four winning innovations.”
The group’s novel idea fuses solar energy and water-from-air harvester based on the ability of the Namib beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) to survive in the world’s most inhospitable desert.
Academics have studied the beetle extensively. To drink water, it stands on a small sand ridge and faces the breeze with its body angled at 45 degrees, enabling it to catch fog droplets on its hardened wings even if its habitat gets less than 20mm of rainfall annually.
“We’re inspired by this tough beetle,” said Al Sakkaf. “It has a magnificent capability to produce water by using a special layer on its back that absorbs humidity from the air and condenses it – and then drinks it.”
Mohammad Obaidullah, a team member and a senior ADU engineering student, said: “The most important thing in the world nowadays is water, and water scarcity is an issue especially in desert countries.” Ahmad Musleh, another senior ADU engineering student, is the third member of the three-member Nerdy Ninjas.
Most countries in the Gulf use desalination, an energy-intensive and expensive method which can also cause severe damage to the environment – including an increase in the seawater salinity around the station.
Research has emulated the Namib beetle’s water-generating capability. NBD Nanotechnologies, Inc, a Boston-based company, had adopted the idea by inventing a layer that changes humidity in the air into water. The Abu Dhabi students aim to use the technology designed as a hybrid and stand-alone system utilising solar power.
“This hybrid system will have the advantage of two systems combined.
In countries where there’s little rain and lots of fog, like the UAE and many African countries, this hybrid system could mean a lot in solving water scarcity – powered by nothing but sunlight,” Al Sakkaf.
Based on their design, the system will be constructed from a panel with two sides. On one side is the solar cells, and the air-to-water-conversion layer on the other. Siemens will pick the final four winners on September 8 and they will receive between $10,000 to $25,000, and help in possibly commercializing the idea.
© Gulf News
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