Xin HENG & Cheng LUO
ScienceDaily, 17 September 2014
Getting water from fog: Shorebird's
beak inspires research on water collection
A UT Arlington engineering professor and his doctoral student
have designed a device based on a shorebird's beak that can
accumulate water collected from fog and dew.
The device could provide water in drought-stricken areas of the
world or deserts around the globe.
Xin Heng, left, a doctoral student in Mechanical and Aerospace
Engineering, and Cheng Luo, MAE professor, have made a device that
can use fog and dew to collect water.
Cheng Luo, professor in the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
Department, and Xin Heng, PhD candidate in the same College of
Engineering department, published "Bioinspired Plate-Based Fog
Collectors" in the Aug. 25 edition of ACS' (American Chemical
Society) Applied Materials & Interfaces journal.
The idea began when Heng saw an article that explained the
physical mechanism shorebirds use to collect their food -- driving
food sources into their throats by opening and closing their
beaks. Luo said that inspired the team to try to replicate the
natural beak in the lab.
"We wanted to see if we could do that first," Luo said. "When we
made the artificial beaks, we saw that multiple water drops were
transported by narrow, beak-like glass plates. That made us think
of whether we could harvest the water from fog and dew."
Their experiments were successful. They found out they could
harvest about four tablespoons of water in a couple of hours from
glass plates that were about 26 centimeters long by 10 centimeters
Shorebirds refers to a general category of bird that lives on the
world's shorelines. They typically have long, hinged beaks that
are designed to ferret around for prey whether in the sand or the
Luo said the hinged, non-parallel artificial beaks the team made
in the lab mimic the shorebirds' beaks, forcing the condensation
to the point where the two glass plates meet. The water is pumped
through a channel, and then the process is repeated.
Luo and Heng said more sustainable methods are needed for
accumulating water in arid or semi-arid places, which make up
about half of the world's land mass.
"And really, if this method could be mass-produced, it could be
used anywhere in the world fog or dew exist," Luo said.
Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said the
research could help drought-stricken areas like Texas and
"The research shows innovative ideas can be triggered by careful
observation of seemingly unrelated phenomenon," Behbehani said.
"Collecting water from existing fog or dew using this novel method
offers another alternative for communities that are strapped for
our most precious resource."
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2014;
Bioinspired Plate-Based Fog Collectors
Xin Heng and Cheng Luo *
In a recent work, we explored the feeding mechanism of a shorebird
to transport liquid drops by repeatedly opening and closing its
beak. In this work, we apply the corresponding results to develop
a new artificial fog collector. The collector includes two
nonparallel plates. It has three advantages in comparison with
existing artificial collectors: (i) easy fabrication, (ii) simple
design to scale up, and (iii) active transport of condensed water
drops. Two collectors have been built. A small one with dimensions
of 4.2 × 2.1 × 0.05 cm3 (length × width × thickness) was first
built and tested to examine (i) the time evolution of condensed
drop sizes and (ii) the collection processes and efficiencies on
the glass, SiO2, and SU-8 plates. Under similar experimental
conditions, the amount of water collected per unit area
on the small collector is about 9.0, 4.7, and 3.7 times,
respectively, as much as the ones reported for beetles, grasses,
and metal wires, and the total amount of water collected is around
33, 18, and 15 times. On the basis of the understanding gained
from the tests on the small collector, a large collector with
dimensions of 26 × 10 × 0.2 cm3 was further built and tested,
which was capable of collecting 15.8 mL of water during a period
of 36 min. The amount of water collected, when it is scaled from
36 to 120 min, is about 878, 479, or 405 times more than what was
collected by individual beetles, grasses, or metal wires.
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