A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has recently developed a simple solution to address two of the world’s biggest problems – water scarcity and food shortage. They created a solar-powered, fully automated device called ‘SmartFarm’ that is equipped with a moisture-attracting material to absorb air moisture at night when the relative humidity is higher, and releases water when exposed to sunlight in the day for irrigation.
SmartFarm has another advantage – the water harvesting and irrigation process can be fine-tuned to suit different types of plants and local climate for optimal cultivation. The hygroscopic material that is used in the SmartFarm was earlier tested by Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) for its application for humidity control for space-based agriculture.
“Atmospheric humidity is a huge source of freshwater but it has remained relatively unexplored. In this work, we’ve tried to mitigate food and water shortage simultaneously. We created a hygroscopic copper-based material and used it to draw moisture from the air. We then integrate this material into a fully automated solar-driven device that utilises the harvested water to irrigate plants daily without manual intervention,” explained project leader Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching, who is from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NUS.