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US military researching how to make water out of thin air for troops

Cadet Zachary Auleciems performs research on chemicals in one of the labs in Gregory Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley)
April 06, 2023

A military-funded project to generate water out of thin air is underway at General Electric, which aims to revolutionize the way troops get the essential resource.

The company’s technology development arm was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2021 for a $14.3 million, four-year project to create a small, portable device that can efficiently draw water out of the surrounding air, according to a press release from GE Research.

The device is set to be light enough to be lifted by four people and productive enough to provide water for 150 troops on a daily basis, the release stated.

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“Today, the logistics and costs involved with transporting water are staggering and in dangerous war zone areas, result in casualties,” said David Moore, a technology manager at GE Research, adding that a compact new device could “save lives and ease the logistical and financial burden for our armed forces.”

The project is dubbed AIR2WATER, short for Additively Manufactured, Integrated Reservoir To Extract Water using Adsorbents and Thermally-Enhanced Recovery, according to the release. It is being researched along with scientists and engineers at UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and the University of South Alabama.

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The devices are expected to be powered by substances called “metal-organic frameworks” (MOFs) that can absorb air, then once heated, release the water trapped in the air. Development of the MOFs will be guided by artificial intelligence modeling, according to the release.

Omar Yaghi, a UC Berkeley chemistry professor who invented MOFs and is leading their development for the project, told Defense One that the technology has already proven successful in tests.

“These water harvesters work well in some of the driest deserts in the world,” he said in an email. “We tested these MOF water harvesters in Arizona and the Mojave deserts and found that significant amounts of water can be harvested from air.”