Salty Diaper Gel Can Harvest Water in the Desert

Regardless of your feelings about disposable diapers, whether they’re a curse or a blessing or both, I think we can all agree that they do their job – absorbing – pretty well. This is due to the hydrogel material imbued into them.

Scientists have taken the hydrogel – a transparent, rubbery material that swells to hold a ton of moisture – and enhanced its already impressive absorbency by infusing it with lithium chloride, a type of salt used as a powerful desiccant.

This produced a superabsorbent gel that soaks up record amounts of moisture from the air – even in desert-like conditions. The gel absorbed a record-breaking 1.79 grams of water per gram of material in 30% relative humidity. The absorbed water doesn’t leak out of the material and can then be heated, condensed, and collected as ultrapure water.

The researchers believe the gel can be a passive water harvester in drought-prone regions. They see other uses for the material, such as a component in air conditioning units for energy-saving and dehumidification.

The MIT team published their results in a paper appearing today in Advanced Materials.

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