3D-Printed Device Converts Air into Water for US Military

GE Research's atmospheric water extraction device could supply up to 150 soldiers with water.
Chris Young
3D-printed atmospheric water extraction device.GE Research

A team led by GE Research received a multi-million dollar contract to develop 3D printed devices that collect moisture from the atmosphere and convert it into drinking water as part of DARPA's Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program.

The prototypes — which could eventually supply water for up to 150 soldiers, even in desert environments — will use heat exchange principles to draw water from the air, a 3DPrint.com report explains.

Efficient air water extraction would be a great boon to the U.S. Military as it would remove the need to invest in building water supply chains for missions in remote environments.

However, most atmospheric water capture devices today work on the same principles as dehumidifiers in a standard air conditioning unit, meaning they are bulky and don't function in arid environments.

With this in mind, AWR's goal is to develop smaller, lighter, and more efficient atmospheric water extraction devices.

Ultimately, the $14.3 million project aims to develop a water absorber that can be lifted by 4 soldiers and can supply 150 individuals with drinking water.

3D printing heat exchangers, searching for the perfect sorbents

AIR2WATER, one of five teams to be awarded funding, is developing coating materials called "sorbents", as well as 3D printed heat exchangers to make the sorbents more efficient.

Chemical engineers at the University of Berkeley and the University of South Alabama are working on finding the perfect sorbents — a material that can recover liquids without absorbing them.

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GE Research's team, meanwhile, will develop carefully adapted 3D printed heat exchangers that transfer heat to the sorbent material. This heat essentially acts as a release mechanism for the sorbent materials that prompt them to release the water that has been absorbed.

The research adds to the incredibly promising field of air-water extraction. Just last month we reported on an advance that saw researchers from the National University of Singapore turn air into clean water using a smart aerogel.

In fact, AIR2WATER's U.S. Military prototype has great potential for eventually being deployed on the civilian market where it could help inhabitants of remote towns and villages to gain access to much-needed clean water.