We have learned time and again what a mistake it is to see the desert as a giant wasteland, a fact that artist Ap Verheggen intends to drive home with the incredible SunGlacier project. Based in the Netherlands, Verheggen is developing a giant sun-powered artificial leaf that uses condensation to create ice out of humidity in the Saharan desert.
This may sound like fantasy, but a pilot project that tests the theory behind the SunGlacier proposal is well underway. Instead of a 200m2 elm-leaf shaped structure with an PV cell coated underbelly, which powers cooling condensers that in turn convert humidity from the desert air into ice, engineers have simulated the desert environment inside of a shipping container. And they’ve already made a 10cm slab of ice!
Believe the impossible
The Engineer reports that Ap Verheggen wants to inspire people to “believe the impossible” where climate change and appropriate action are concerned. As bold and counterintuitive as it is, albeit firmly ensconced in science, the SunGlacier leaf project is certain to do just that.
Extracting water from humid air is yesterday’s news in the Middle East. The Gulf countries in particular have very little freshwater so they have had to develop clever solutions for obtaining water wherever they can, including from the air, which is absolutely saturated with humidity.
Too dry? Nope.
But since the Sahara desert is significantly less humid than the Gulf countries, it seems like a poor candidate for this kind of technology. Not so, according to Verheggen, who told the paper that the humidity in Egypt’s portion of the Sahara desert is equivalent to that of the Netherlands and that it is sufficient to generate ice and water.
The engineers have heated the shipping container to 30 degrees Celsius and installed a humidifier that creates moisture. A fan, which simulates the fierce desert winds, is pointed at the ice. As the ice grows from the condensation, water collects at the base – an encouraging sign for water scarce countries in the Middle East.
For once, hotter is definitely better!
According to the Engineer, hotter conditions are favorable to the experiment, since theoretically, more heat means more condensation, which means more ice and water.
The group has not yet achieved the kinds of efficiencies they hope for, but the project is still in its infancy and so far their progress is quite remarkable. Combined with Markus Kayser’s Solar Sinter that produces 3D objects from the sun, it is becoming increasingly possible to envision whole new communities thriving in the desert lands once again.
Video on SunGlacier
:: The Engineer
More awesome desert design projects:
Wresting Water from Air to Grow Desert Crops
Solar-Powered 3D Printer Makes Objects from Sahara Sands
Jordan Signs Up for Epic Sahara Forest Project