California redwoods

In many arid coastal areas, fresh water is scarce. But when fog rolls in …

Boreyko: “You can simply drape a net, and boom, you have this fresh water that’s appropriate to use right away.”

That’s Jonathan Boreyko, a mechanical engineer at Virginia Tech. The method is called fog harvesting. It’s been used for decades and provides water that can be used for drinking or irrigation. Moisture from fog collects on wire mesh that looks like a screen. Then it drips into a container.

But the nets can only catch so much water.

Boreyko: “Current fog harvesters are simply not very efficient at all. A small net will clog and a large net will not catch enough of the fog droplets.”

To improve the system, Boreyko turned to California’s redwood trees for inspiration.

Boreyko: “These coastal redwoods are catching fog on their needles and then very efficiently draining these fog droplets along the needles so they can fall onto the ground and then get taken up by the roots.”

Boreyko’s design features vertical wires that mimic the tree’s parallel needles. Called a fog harp, his device collects two to three times more water than mesh.

The next challenge is to ramp up this nature-inspired technology to provide fresh water to thirsty communities on a large scale.

Reporting credit: Alison Fromme/ChavoBart Digital Media.
California redwoods photo: Copyright protected.

Monica Isola is a bilingual biologist-turned-communicator who specializes in climate change, environment, and conservation.