There’s no doubt that Australia will be dry, but a new technology may promise to generate solar energy while watering crops at the same time.
Scientists in Saudi Arabia have been able to create a solar-driven system that has proven successful in growing spinach with water taken from the air.
Using a unique hydrogel, the new panels water plants while also generating electricity.
The proof-of-concept design was released in March of this year.
While more development needs to be done to make hydrogel a better material, the break-through offers a sustainable, affordable strategy to improve food and water security for people living in drought. which climatic regions.
The report’s senior author, Peng Wang, is a professor of environmental science and engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
Wang and his team developed the hydrogel for use in their research.
They have already seen how the material can effectively absorb water vapor from the ambient air and release the water content when heated.
“Our design produces water from the air using clean energy that is wasted and is suitable for decentralized, small farms in remote areas such as deserts and ocean islands,” said Mr Wang.
The system, called WEC2P, consists of a solar photovoltaic panel placed on top of a layer of hydrogel.
It is then placed on top of a large metal box to condense and collect the water.
The researchers used waste heat from solar panels when generating electricity to drive water out of the hydrogel.
The metal box below collects the steam and condenses the gas into water.
The hydrogel also increases the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels by up to nine percent, by absorbing heat and lowering the temperature of the panels.
The team conducted a plant-growing test using WEC2P in Saudi Arabia for two weeks in June, when the weather was very hot.
They only used water collected from the air to irrigate 60 spinach seeds in water, which were planted in a plastic box growing the plant.
In total, about two liters of water is condensed from the hydrogel in two weeks.
“Our goal is to create an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production, especially the water-creation part of our design, which distinguishes us from the current agrophotovoltaics,” Mr. Wang said.
To turn the proof-of-concept design into an actual product, the team now plans to develop a better hydrogel that can absorb more water from the air.