Scientists Announce New Method to Pull Potable Water From Tank Exhaust

By Patrick Morgan
Apr 20, 2011 5:24 PMOct 10, 2019 4:41 PM


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What’s the News: Scientists have developed a new process that condenses diesel fuel exhaust into water. If implemented on the battlefield, it would allow soldiers to produce drinkable water from burnt fuel in tanks, generators, and Humvees, freeing them from carrying quite so many heavy water-filled containers. “Theoretically, one gallon of diesel should produce one gallon of water,” project leader Melanie Debusk told MSNBC.

How the Heck:

  • The new process involved is called capillary condensation, and as Debusk told MSNBC, the set-up resembles a “hollow … tube with porous walls.”

  • As the exhaust funnels through an array of porous ceramic tubes, the microscopic pores on the side of the tube condense the water via capillary action.

  • As liquid water is extracted from outside the tube, it frees up room for the pores to fill up again, allowing a person to continue producing water.

What’s the Context:

  • The military has experimented with producing water from exhaust before, but they only tried thermodynamic condensation, wherein you have to cool the exhaust in order to condense it. They ditched this method because the equipment required to cool the exhaust was too bulky and heavy, defeating the purpose of finding a lighter alternative to lugging water.

  • Since the capillaries separate the water from water-soluble gases, the process results in water that’s pure enough that upwards of 85% of it is potable, say the researchers.

  • On average, a U.S. soldier requires seven gallons of water a day. A single Humvee’s 25-gallon gas tank could potentially provide “enough water for about three soldiers per tank of fuel burned.”

The Future Holds: If Debusk’s lab gets a $6 million budget, she says she’d like to develop the system to its full capacity in the “next few years.”

Image: flickr / Nikhil Verma

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