Solar panels that produce not only energy, but also water from the air for farming (even in the desert)

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Elia Tabuenca García
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An Arab project aims to find an answer to the needs of water, energy and food for many people living in rural areas

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The climate crisis casts ever more disturbing shadows on the future that awaits us in the coming decades: rising temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, pose important and urgent choices to governments for the survival of populations. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure stable supplies of water, energy and food to the population.

A project developed in Saudi Arabia and recently presented tries to meet these needs in a sustainable way, through the combined development of water, electricity and agriculture resources based on solar energy: the new system WEC 2 P in fact, it is based on the adsorption-desorption cycle of atmospheric water to cool the photovoltaic cells and increase their electricity generation performance, or to sustainably produce fresh water from atmospheric water vapor and thus support the growth of crops.

A slice of the world's population still does not have access to clean water or green energy, and many of these people live in rural areas with an arid or semi-arid climate - explains the author of the project, Professor Peng Wang |. - Our project draws water from the air using clean energy that would have been wasted, and is suitable for small-scale decentralized farms in remote locations such as deserts and ocean islands.

In practice, it is a photovoltaic solar panel placed on a layer of hydrogel, mounted on a large metal box that serves to condense and collect the water. The hydrogel is a particular chemical substance (called colloid) made up of polymer chains of molecules dispersed in an aqueous solution: this is able to effectively absorb water vapor from the ambient air and release the water content when heated.

The researchers used the waste heat resulting from the production of electricity to condense the vapor collected from the atmosphere and transform it into water, to be collected in the box located just below the panels. The hydrogel is also able to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic panels as it is able to absorb heat and, therefore, to lower the surface temperature.

@Cell Reports

The system was tested for a period of three months with surprising results: the surface temperature of the photovoltaic panels was lowered up to 17 ° C, while an increase in electricity production was recorded up to 9,9%; furthermore, the system allowed the production of water from the water vapor present in the atmosphere, which was used for the irrigation of spinach plants (with a crop survival rate of 95%).

Our goal is to create an integrated system for the production of clean energy, water and food - explains the professor Wang. - Making sure everyone on Earth has access to clean water and affordable clean energy is part of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. I hope our project can be a decentralized electricity and water system to light houses and water crops.

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Fonte: Cell Reports

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