As part of the world’s quest for increasingly scarce potable water, chemists at the University of California at Berkeley have fashioned a material that pulls water vapor out of air, even in a desert, and delivers it as liquid water.

The material is a metal-organic framework or MOF; think of metal atoms as balls linked by organic sticks to create a box that can hold other molecules. Different combinations of metal atoms and organic linkers will make different size frameworks able to attract and house different “guest” molecules.

After trying various recipes, the Berkeley team came up with an aluminum-based MOF whose chambers can attract and hold water molecules cheaply. In the Arizona desert, the group put a sample in a jar, let it gather water from the night air, then sealed the jar and let sunlight push the water out of the framework.

Now the group has created a device the size of a microwave oven and attached a solar panel to power a heater and fan that will let the MOF complete dozens of catch-and-release cycles every day. The next version of the gadget will yield eight to ten liters of water daily.

Omar Yaghi, the lead researcher, has formed a company called Water Harvesting that will scale up a plant to produce more than 22,000 liters a day for remote villages and worksites.  “We’re making water mobile,” he says.

TRENDPOST: As clean water becomes scarcer and more precious, more innovators will enter the market with mobile devices to deliver potable water without the usual infrastructure of pups and pipes. Investors who connect with these innovators early will reap rewards in the long term.

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