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| 1 minute read

Harvesting with hydrogels

As a patent attorney working in chemistry and the life sciences, I see a lot of patent applications relating to hydrogels come across my desk. More often that not, these hydrogels are being used in wound dressing materials, drug delivery devices or cell culture but a recent article highlighting a new application for hydrogels caught my eye the other day.  

A team of researchers at the University of Texas has managed to develop a hydrogel that is able to efficiently harvest water from atmospheric air. The hydrogel incorporates a hydroscopic salt (lithium chloride) that enhances the ability of the hydrogel to absorb water. Typically hydrogels and these types of salt are not compatible but the researchers in this case have devised a polymer based on zwitterions that, when combined with the salt, provided a sponge-like hydrogel material that was more easily able to absorb water from the air. The hydrogel could then be dried in a condenser to extract the water and repeated multiple times.

This technology has the potential to play a role in addressing water shortages in arid regions of the world and so will be an exciting space to watch. A quick keyword search on Espacenet indicates a significant amount of patent filings already in the area, with many originating from academia. 

The materials scientist Guihua Yu and his team at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, have now overcome these issues by developing a particularly “salt-friendly” hydrogel. As their study shows, this gel gains the ability to absorb and retain water when combined with a hygroscopic salt. Using their hydrogel, the team were able to extract almost six liters of pure water per kilo of material in 24 hours, from air with 30% relative humidity.


chemistry, energy & environment, patents, polymers, womeninip