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Will military troops soon be able to capture potable water from the atmosphere? Potable water resupply is one of the major challenges when troops are deployed in complex and risky arenas. To provide troops with drinkable water to date, the military depends on transported bottles of it, or the purification of regional water sources.

DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, wants innovative proposals that will catalyze the development of next-generation sorbent materials and modern systems to seamlessly extract water directly from the atmosphere to serve warfighters on the ground. 

Purification efforts using contemporary systems can endanger personnel, as local water sources are not always located in secure areas. Current technologies, such as dehumidifiers, are unsatisfactory in size and power and can’t harvest water from areas with low humidity air, like in Kandahar, Afghanistan. 

“By providing a ubiquitous source of potable water, [the program] will eliminate the ability of adversaries to use water as a tactical or destabilizing leverage point, thereby reducing the likelihood of interstate water conflicts,” the solicitation reads. The program is set to take place over two phases, each lasting 24 months. 

The ultimate aim, according to DARPA, is to harvest water on the spot and directly from the air to meet the daily needs of military personnel, even in the driest areas. Participants will help the agency in providing “potable water for a range of military needs by developing low-powered, distributable systems that can provide potable water anywhere, anytime, and without the need for any external liquid water source.” 

The Atmospheric Water Extraction program encompasses two tracks: the first is to create a unit to meet the daily needs of individual warfighters deployed in the field, and the second is to create systems that will meet the daily drinking requirements of up to 150 people. The program also includes two technical areas that will run concurrently throughout its duration—and officials in the solicitation emphasize that proposals must address both. 

For the first, the participants will be expected to develop state-of-the-art sorbent materials that can swiftly extract water from ambient air and then subsequently release it. For the second area, they’ll need to design systems that can leverage their newly-developed materials to transfer potable water from the air. Drinkability will be a “necessary feature” in the final prototype device, according to nextgov.com.