Close up of picture of water droplets on a seat

Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA)

Capturing water from thin air

Developing a low-cost method to capture enough water from the atmosphere to alleviate the effect of drought by providing water for consumption by humans and animals, and for irrigating plants.

Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA)

The stable, sustainable supply of clean water is one of this century's most significant global challenges. For Australia, one of the driest continents, it is particularly important as drought affects entire communities and ecosystems.

The cost of the millennium drought from the late 90's was estimated at $40B. More recently, the 2018 drought in NSW is estimated to cost the economy up to $12B.

Capturing water directly from the atmosphere through the condensation of moisture on a cool surface will help alleviate this challenge.

Our aim is to develop large surfaces with incorporated nano- and micro-scale chemical patterns which can capture water passively.

  • Our technology is more advantageous than other technologies available today because they either require active cooling, or, if not cooled, they only work for part of the night.
  • Our proprietary technology, produced over a large surface, will capture water passively, i.e., without any energy input and we aim to sustainably collect 10 litres of water per hour per square meter, 24 hours a day.
Climate change is shifting our rainfall patterns and increasing the severity of droughts and floods. We’ve always been a sunburnt country, but things are getting worse.
Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council

ACWA's mission and vision is:

Stability - stable water supply for Australian produce;

Security - secure water supply during emergencies (for example war and drought); 

Sustainability - sustainable water supply for Australian wildlife and livestock; 

Scalability - a scalable water infrastructure system.

Our large-scale atmospheric water capture will have enormous, sustainable economic and environmental consequences by supporting livelihoods and farming in remote regions.

It will provide, without energy input, drinking water for people, for farm animals and for wild animals, and increased water use efficiency for irrigation in green houses and other horticultural settings and for water intensive crops such as cotton.

By providing a novel method for water supply, the project will modify how humans interact with atmospheric water, and by local capture of water it will provide increased efficiency by removing the need for long-distance water transport—even a 10% saving in water use for growing crops will have very major societal benefits.

Research in plant science will also identify where the greatest water savings can be achieved and how speeding up of the water cycle affects a plant’s physiology to optimise water recycling for sustainable and high crop yields.

Water science will help us understand how water quality is affected by different environments and climatic conditions. 

Our passive water capture technology offers a myriad of possible applications. Apart from the more obvious application in water capture which include water harvesting in remote locations for defence, emergency services, and outdoor activities, our technology also offers an optimisation in the condensation process and this benefits all applications that require nucleation of liquids, such as cooling towers, distillation, and desalination.

Martijn de Sterke

  • +61 2 9351 7726
  • Room 307 Physics A28

Chiara Neto

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Australian Research Council Future Fellow
  • +61 2 9351 3329
  • Room 349 School of Chemistry F11