You’re Mine, Molecule!

A solar-powered device that soaks up water from the air could provide relief in waterstarved regions, according to an article on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The device is a metal-organic framework (MOF), a crystalline net that can extract water vapor out of the air—even in a desert— and then release it as liquid water. It’s the brainchild of Jordanian-born Omar Yaghi, now a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. He and his colleagues created their first MOF in 1995, and tens of thousands have been produced since.

The MOFs are made of metal atoms that work like hubs in a Tinkertoy set. The atoms are connected in a porous network held together by organic linkers, creating containers that trap molecular particles. Using different metals and linkers, scientists can tailor the structure to capture molecules like water and carbon dioxide.

Early versions were expensive and degraded quickly, but Yaghi’s team has managed to create a more robust model that promises commercial applications. A recent market report predicted that sales of MOFs for detecting and storing gases will grow to $410 million annually over the next five years, up from $70 million in 2019.

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