The US military wants to deliver drinking water to troops in the desert by sucking it out of the air

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fire an M777 Howitzer at known targets during training August 9, 2018, at Mount Bundey Training Area, Australia.

  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's research agency, has launched a new project to deliver drinking water to troops in dry, arid environments by extracting it from the air.
  • The Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program will strive to develop technology for the individual soldier, as well as for a company of roughly 150 troops.
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The US military is researching ways to capture moisture in the air and deliver it to troops as drinking water in arid environments, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) revealed in a recent statement.

DARPA, the Pentagon's research arm, has launched the Atmospheric Water Extraction (AWE) program to explore ways to extract potable water from the air in quantities sufficient to meet troop's demands for drinking water in less hospitable areas, such as desert regions.

The US military has troops serving across the Middle East in countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Africa. The military currently relies on deliveries of bottled water or the purification of fresh and salt water sources for drinking water in these locations.

Neither "are optimal for mobile forces that operate with a small footprint," Seth Cowen, the AWE program manager at DARPA, said in a statement, adding that "the demand for drinking water is a constant across all Department of Defense missions, and the risk, cost, and complexity that go into meeting that demand can quickly become force limiting factors."

The new AWE program will focus on developing a compact, portable device designed to provide an individual soldier with a daily supply of potable water, as well as a larger device that can be transported on a standard military vehicle and meet the demands of an entire company.

DARPA is putting an emphasis on advanced sorbents, materials able to absorb liquids, that can rapidly pull water from the air over thousands of repetitions and quickly release it without requiring significant amounts of energy, the agency said in a statement. Additionally, AWE solutions will need to be suitable for highly-mobile forces.

"If the AWE program succeeds in providing troops with potable water even in arid climates, that gives commanders greater maneuver and decision space and allows operations to run longer," Cohen said, adding that this technology could potentially "diminish the motivation for conflicts over resources by providing a new source of drinking water to stressed populations."

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