Press Releases > Small Business and University Team Developing a Portable Device to Harvest Drinking Water from the Air using Smart Moisture Absorbing Foams (SMAFs)

Small Business and University Team Developing a Portable Device to Harvest Drinking Water from the Air using Smart Moisture Absorbing Foams (SMAFs)

Press Release

Press Release

Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) in collaboration with Cascade Designs Inc (CDI) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) has been awarded a program from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a new atmospheric water extraction (AWE) device that can recover clean drinking water from air. The developed technology is intended to supply water in remote areas, to forward deployed soldiers, and during emergency situations.

Water is a critical resource for survival. Many remote locations have limited or polluted water supplies. Existing methods of water purification, such as desalination, require large pieces of equipment and are energy intensive. Further, water is cumbersome to transport, presenting a logistical and economic challenge for supplying water to distant areas. The PSI team aims to overcome these challenges by creating a new class of water capturing materials incorporated into an ultra-lightweight and portable water harvesting system.

The centerpiece of the team’s technology is a novel Smart Moisture Absorbing Foam, or a SMAF. The SMAF will capture atmospheric water across a wide variety of environments, and over a range of temperatures and relative humidity. The SMAF also has very high water storage capacity, enabling daily operational cycles and minimizing frequency of user interaction. The key property of the SMAF is that water is released by compression. The material is ‘smart’ because it switches from hydrophilic (‘water loving’) to hydrophobic (‘water rejecting’) as it is compressed – thereby expelling any trapped water.

Typical state of the art water capture materials release water by energy-intensive heating. Releasing water by compression greatly reduces the amount of energy required to power the system, enabling ultimate portability.
As a part of the effort, the SMAF material will be incorporated into several prototype devices. The final device will be easily carried by an individual as a primary water supply. The team aims to create a lightweight, compact, durable and easy to operate water harvesting system that fits within the stringent DARPA size weight and power targets.

The goal of this new research is a portable and robust system capable of extracting potable drinking water from ambient air. To ensure portability, the system is designed to fit within a strict size, weight and power envelope. Such technology has game-changing implications for both military and humanitarian purposes.

For more information about PSI’s atmospheric water extraction technology, please contact Dr. Peter Warren, Vice President of PSI’s Materials Systems Division: