Virginia Tech researchers harvest fog to combat water shortages

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BLACKSBURG,Va. (WDBJ7) The answer to fixing a water shortage could be floating through the air.
Researchers at Virginia Tech are pulling water from fog using a harp.

You can't play a tune with the fog harp, but it's music to people's ears who have been looking for a solution to a global water shortage crisis.

The concept is nothing new. Researchers have designed ways of pulling water from what seems like thin air to drink for while, but a team here at Virginia Tech noticed a flaw in the design.

"Currently fog harvesters are comprised of this kind of mesh netting. And the problem that we have with this design is you have this duel constraint. Where if the wires are too close together the water actually clogs inside of the holes and gets stuck," said Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics

Researchers in Blacksburg developed a harp, not for entertainment, rather to harvest a necessity.

"With this design, which is composed of vertical wire array that clogging doesn't happen and water droplets are more free to drop away," said Brook Kennedy, an industrial design professor.

It works like this, seen here in this demonstration. Fog passes through the harp, water droplets quickly build on the wires and pour into a container where it's collected and can be used for drinking water and irrigation.

"And a third which I thought was kind of interesting, is that fog actually causes hundreds of thousands of car accidents every year on the foggy road conditions so there is some interest now in suspending these fog harvesters by the sides of roadways to keep the roads dry and safe," Boreyko said.

It's estimated that two thirds of the world's population will be suffering from a water shortage by 2020, researchers say.

"So a fog harvester provides the means of providing potable water to communities worldwide. Especially very arid communities that also have moving fog," Kennedy said.

The team says their design can harvest three times as much water than a mesh collector can.

Their design was inspired by coastal redwoods in California that use pine needles to collect one-third of their water consumption from fog.