Spiders have given scientists an ingeniously simple method of collecting water from the air

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Spiders can also collect morning dew on their webs

Artificial fibers woven like spider webs can provide large-scale water harvesting from fog in places where there is no access to clean and potable water. Experiments have shown that spiral fiber bumps can collect 2000 times more water than the volume of the bumps themselves.

This is stated in a study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the details of which are reported by New Scientist (to watch the video, scroll to the end).

Currently, existing methods of collecting water from the air are also effective, but they are an energy-intensive process. In particular, the condensation method requires a surface that is cooler than the air temperature.

Now, Yunmei Zheng from Beihang University in China and her colleagues have developed artificial microfiber threads that are covered with spiral bumps. It is thanks to these irregularities that the fiber is able to passively create huge drops of water on itself.

To achieve this effect, the scientists coated the plastic microfiber with a layer of hydrophilic (water-loving) titanium dioxide. As a result, bulges were formed on the fiber, which are then brought to a spiral shape using high temperatures.

The spiral structure significantly increases the surface area on which water droplets can adhere. It also allows the water to stay on the fiber better. Research has shown that such a bulge can collect 2000 times more water than its own volume.

As part of the experiments, the scientists created a device with 420 spiral bumps measuring 6 square centimeters, which can collect about 100 ml of water per day in a foggy environment.

A device for collecting water from the air.

In order to produce enough water for one person per day, the device needs to be enlarged by about 17 times. Its area will be about 108 square centimeters.

The scientists admitted that they borrowed the idea for their product from nature, namely from the spider web, which is similarly capable of collecting large volumes of water. They also admit that "it looks interesting, but it also requires very complicated training."

Similar artificial webs already exist, but their ability to collect water tends to decline over time. Instead, titanium oxide can self-repair by reacting with water molecules when exposed to ultraviolet light. This reaction maintains the hydrophilic properties of the material, providing it with a high ability to create bonds with water.

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