Inspired by a beetle’s shell, a cactus spine, and the skin of a carnivorous plant, this slick, bumpy coating is a material straight out of Dune or Star Wars.
Put this water-saving coating into a rain of steady droplets it condenses airborne water vapor into liquid 10 times faster than any other known material.
“Imagine this kind of condensation system being used simply for water collection on a moisture farm, such as the one on Tatooine where Luke Skywalker was raised“.
Mechanical engineer Kyoo-Chul Park led the team of researchers that developed this new coating, which is outlined in a study in the journal Nature this week.
Such a material would be quite useful in any machine with a heat exchanger that relies on water collection for heat transfer.
“That’s anything from a thermal power plant to a water distillation plant, or a humidification system and any HVAC system used in cars, trains, or airplanes,” he says.
“I’m a big fan of Star Wars, and so you could imagine this kind of condensation system being used simply for water collection on a moisture farm, such as the one on Tatooine where Luke Skywalker was raised,” Park says.
“The basic idea is already here: harvesting liquid water from air-bound vapor in an extremely arid region.”
Park’s material was inspired by materials found in nature, on three extremely different organisms from opposite ends of the Earth.
Together, facets of these biological materials encourage the condensation of big water droplets, and then hurry those droplets down the coating.
This thirsty bug survives in its arid environment by condensing water droplets on its bumpy back in the early morning.
Years ago, a study observed that this condensation effect was partly due to a waxy coating found on the beetles‘ knobby exoskeleton.
After studying the effects of a material with the exact same sized bumps in his laboratory, Park and his colleagues discovered that the bumps are vital for gathering dew.
While the process is still not entirely understood by the researchers, Park and colleageus know that water tends to condense into larger droplets at the peak of each bump.
That extra air means air-bound water vapor has a higher chance of coming in contact with the surface.