A tiny insect inspired four graduate students at London’s Imperial College to try to solve the global demand for water. “There are animals, such as the fogstand beetle in Africa, that can draw water directly from the atmosphere,” says Jonathan Risley, CEO of ThinAirWater. “We thought: ‘If animals can do it, why can’t humans do it on a much larger scale?’”
Risley and his fellow grad students — experts in biochemistry, biotechnology, and material engineering — worked to come up with a membrane to mimic the beetle’s shell. But their biggest innovation, one that they’re patenting, is a protein layer that helps the membrane collect water more quickly and efficiently. How much water? Every day, a square meter of the membrane would be able to collect 26.8 liters — that’s more than 7 gallons. Their first application would be agriculture. The ThinAirWater team is already working with farms that could test the product’s uses for irrigating crops starting in 2018.
“The four of us wanted to address one of the three biggest problems humanity faces: the demand for water, food, and energy.”
Founded in 2016, ThinAirWater’s research has attracted interest from others in their field. In March, they won second place in the Venture Catalyst Challenge, a program to test the commercial viability of early-stage science and tech project. Since then, they’ve won every competition they’ve entered. That includes the London Creator Awards, where they took home an $18,000 prize. “It’s great to get through to this stage,” Risley says. “With this prize money, we’re going to be able to start scaling up our technology.”
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