Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) researchers together with researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), have developed a special treatment for cotton fabric that allows the cotton to absorb exceptional amounts of water from misty air: 340% of its own weight. What makes this 'coated cotton' so interesting is that the cotton releases the collected water by itself, as it gets warmer. This property makes of the coated cotton materials a potential solution to provide water to the desert regions, for example for agricultural purposes.
The researchers applied a coating of PNIPAAm, a polymer, to the cotton fabric. At lower temperatures, this cotton has a sponge-like structure at microscopic level. Up to a temperature of 34°C it is highly hydrophilic, in other words it absorbs water strongly. Through this property the cotton can absorb 340 % of its own weight of water from misty air – compared with only 18% without the PNIPAAm coating. Totally pure water In contrast, once the temperature raises the material becomes hydrophobic or water-repellant, and above 34°C the structure of the PNIPAAm-coated cotton is completely closed. When these high temperatures are reached the cotton has released all the absorbed water, which is totally pure. The research shows that this cycle can be repeated many times.