A new polymer developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology and Hong Kong Polytechnic University could be used to enable cheap cotton to provide water in deserts and other arid regions. Researchers write that at low temperatures, cotton treated with the polymer becomes super-absorbent, and can hold up to 340 percent of its own weight in water (compared to just 18 percent without the polymer). As the treated cotton gets hotter, it automatically releases "totally pure water," and completely releases all absorbed water as it reaches 34 degrees Celsius.
The invention is said to be inspired from beetles and spiders in desert areas, which can collect and consume water from fogs. The researchers say that the availability and low-cost of cotton indicates that the technology could provide water in deserts or mountain regions where air is misty at night — and the polymer currently only increases the cost of cotton by 12 percent. There's no word on how quickly the technology could be used in the field, but researchers hope to improve the invention by increasing the amount of water the cotton can absorb and lowering the temperature required to change the polymer from a water-collection to a water-releasing state.