As everyone knows, deserts lack water.

Or do they?

While it may be true water is scant on their dry grounds, deserts actually do have significant amounts of water lingering in the air. It is for this reason a number of scientists are looking for creative ways to capture it and provide new sources of nourishment for those living in arid regions.

Among those engaged in the challenge include researchers from the University of Connecticut. They have devised a so-called “trap” that uses birnessite, a type of manganese dioxide. To capture water, these scientists riddle the birnessite with small holes that allows air to pass and H20 to collect. A key advantage of their contraption is that birnessite is found commonly in nature and cheap to create. More conventional water traps in use today, on the other hand, rely upon zirconium that is both rare and very expensive.

Another research team, this one from the University of California, Berkeley, has also weighed into the effort. They propose replacing the pricy zirconium with “aluminium.” Aluminium, like birnessite, is cheaper than zirconium, and it is also better at binding to and then releasing water, making this particular trap’s operation also smoother.

But do they actually work in the field? The results, thus far, are promising. As reported in the Economist:

“Both proposals work. Tested in desert-like conditions in a laboratory … they absorb and regurgitate reasonable fractions of their weight of water every day. They are nothing like as productive as desalination plants, and so would have to be built at large scale to generate water in commercially useful quantities. But one thing deserts do have is lots of cheap land. If either or both of these inventions can be manufactured at scale, then the deserts may bloom—if not with plants, at least with water-collection farms.”

For more information, check out the full story in the Economist.


  • CFACT, founded in 1985 by Craig Rucker and the late (truly great) David Rothbard, examines the relationship between human freedom, and issues of energy, environment, climate, economics, civil rights and more.