A new treatment applied to cotton called PNIPAAm can make the material absorb up to 340% of its own weight in water from misty air and then release it as temperatures heat up. This makes it ideal for gathering water in desert and mountain environments. By comparison, untreated cotton can absorb only 18% of its weight in water.
Created by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the coated cotton can grab water from misty air, store it, and then release it. The water remains pure and unadulterated by the cotton. The process is repeatable again and again and the polymer can be applied to any cotton material.
The process, sometimes called fog harvesting, mirrors the system used by some beetles that collect water on their shells which then roll into their mouths. At low temperatures, the cotton fiber remains wide open and receptive to moisture. Once the temperaure rises above 34 degrees Celius, the cotton contracts and becomes hydrophobic, thereby releasing the clean water. The creators expect this to work well in agricultural uses but could be useful to collect water overnight in hot environments or create wicking clothing for athletes.
According to a release on Eurekalert, the material isn’t expensive to produce and the researchers are working on ways to optimise the new material for everyday use. Perhaps the Stillsuit is closer than even the Bene Gesserit witch expected?