Researchers have found an unlikely source of inspiration: the Namib Desert beetle, a denizen of southern Africa. The beetle has a pattern of water-repelling and water-attracting molecules on its hardened wings to gather drinking water from the morning fog.
Scientists have replicated this pattern by making a 'forest' of tiny carbon atoms called nanotubes and covering it with a layer that attracts water into the forest without the need for external power and a second one that keeps the moisture. The water is then extracted by simply squeezing the structure like a sponge.
The amount of water collected depends on the humidity of the air. The test forest collected more than a quarter of its weight in water over 11 hours in dry environments, but in humid conditions the amount increased to 80% of its weight in 13 hours.
This concept has the potential to bring much-needed water to regions with little rainfall. Before mass-scale production of these forests can begin, however, costs need to be significantly reduced.