Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Can Mimicking Nature Quench Our Thirst?

African Stenocara beetle

photo: Hans Hillewaert

By Stuart Thickett, Chiara Neto and Andrew Harris

Patterned polymer surfaces based on the African Stenocara beetle could be applied to our roofs to collect drinking water from the atmosphere.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Maintaining a stable supply of drinking water in Australia is a continual challenge. In 2006 the drought that gripped most of the Australian mainland was termed “the worst drought in 1000 years”, with the once-ferocious Murray River receiving only 5% of its average inflow.

Australia’s major cities have not been spared, with a recent report showing that Melbourne overdrew from its dam infrastructure by close to 400 billion litres during the past decade. Severe water restrictions have been placed on residents elsewhere along the eastern seaboard, including Brisbane and Sydney, with the very real fear that dams may run dry.

Unfortunately, there is very little infrastructure for water collection outside of the pre-existing dams that provide water for Australia’s major cities. Recently, much attention has been turned towards desalination of seawater, with the opening of the Kurnell desalination plant in southern Sydney in January this year. The plant, with construction costs at an estimated $1.9 billion, uses reverse osmosis to remove salt from seawater and can potentially provide 15% of Sydney’s drinking water.

Sydney Water is also in the process of building wastewater recycling plants for non-drinking purposes, with the goal of recycling 70 GL of water per year by 2015.

However, these methods are energyintensive, and critics of desalination cite...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Dr Stuart Thickett is a postdoctoral researcher and Dr Chiara Neto (Chemistry) and Associate Professor Andrew Harris (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) are academic staff at the University of Sydney.