Oct 7, 2016 | By Tess

3D printing has offered unprecedented solutions in a number of areas including in the medical field (with custom designed and easy to manufacture prosthetics), architecture and design (with complex structures and forms being achievable), and in the aerospace manufacturing industries (with the capability to produce small batch parts with optimized and complex internal geometries). Now, however, it seems as though the technology might be offering at least a small scale solution to the environmental problem of water scarcity, as a team of researchers from the University of Gent are developing Dewpal, a 3D printed object designed specifically for condensing water from the atmosphere.

Water scarcity is a very real problem in our current world, as an estimated 1.2 billion people across the globe do not have sufficient access to clean drinking water, and close to 3 billion are affected by water scarcity for at least part of the year. Some solutions to water scarcity, at least on a small scale, involve collecting fresh water from less obvious sources, or converting non-fresh water into drinkable freshwater, though many existing methods for the latter two options can be quite resource intensive. That is why a group of master and PhD students from UGent have teamed up to devise an affordable tool for passively collecting water from the air around us.

Dewpal is essentially a 3D printed structure that has been optimized, through its shape and synthetic biology, to collect and condense water from the atmosphere. Notably, the device’s structure itself was inspired by nature, specifically the fogstand beetle, whose domed shape helps it to collect water from the air to survive in the Namib desert. To make the small tool as effective as possible, the UGent team plans to 3D print the water condenser out of a biotin-containing filament. Biotin, for those unfamiliar, is a vitamin naturally found in egg yolk, liver, and yeast, which binds very strongly to the protein streptavidin.

As the team explains, they will use this strong binding property to then attach the protein INP (Ice Nucleation Protein) to the 3D printed dome. INP, which is found in certain bacteria, is the protein responsible for ice crystalisation and cloud formation. By binding it to the streptavidin, the team is hoping to facilitate and optimize how their plastic device collects water from the air and thus captures consumable water.

The Belgian research project is part of the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, also known as iGem, a competition which brings together teams from all over the world who have worked on projects involving synthetic biology. This year, all of the participating teams will come together at the end of October to present their work at the Giant Jamboree in Boston.

Currently, the UGent research team is raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign to help sponsor their trip to the Giant Jamboree, which costs $695 per person, plus travel and living costs. The funds will also go towards buying the necessary materials to further develop and prototype the Dewpal. As the team says on their crowdfunding page, “The iGEM competition is prestigious and internationally renowned. If we can put our project into the spotlight here, that is one step closer to solving the problem of water scarcity.”

The crowdfunding campaign, which is being hosted through Gofundme, is seeking to raise €10k and offers a number of backer rewards, including a 3D printed PLA prototype of the Dewpal (€100) or a Dewpal screwcap (€250), which can be attached to a bottle and buried underground to collect water.




Posted in 3D Printing Application



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