The Namib Desert of southern Africa is a brutal a place to live, even for a beetle. To survive, the Namib beetle farms moisture, using its back to condense the water and then storing the water to drink later.
It's a remarkable adaptation to the arid conditions, and a team of recent MIT graduates are hoping to tap into the Namib beetle's secret in order to bring water to the estimated three billion people — otherwise known as about half the human race — who live in regions with insufficient water resources. The company, NBD Nano, are attempting to create a water bottle that is coated in an alternating mix of water-attracting and water-repelling, or hydrophilic and hydrophobic, materials. This combination should trap in moisture and force it to condense inside the bottle. Co-founder Miguel Galvez explains the idea to BBC News:
"It was important to apply [biomimicry] to our design and we have developed a proof of concept and [are] currently creating our first fully-functional prototype. We think our initial prototype will collect anywhere from half a litre of water to three litres per hour, depending on local environments. Dry places like the Atacama Desert or Gobi Desert don't have access to a lot of sources of water. So if we're creating [several] litres per day in a cost-effective manner, you can get this to a community of people in Sub-Saharan Africa and other dry regions of the world. And if you can do it cheaply enough, then you can really create an impact on the local environment."
While the idea of moisture farming is hardly new, the condensation devices that currently exist use up huge amounts of energy for relatively little return. While NBD Nano's bottle couldn't support an entire community, it would at least be able to provide extra water in a much more energy-efficient way.