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Spinach being grown in desert using solar power

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This is a schematic of WEC2P deployed in an arid region. (Renyuan Li via SWNS)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Spinach has been grown in the desert... by harnessing the power of the sun.

The nutritious vegetable needs about one and a half inches of water a week, supplied by a solar panel which pulled in vapor from the air - while producing electricity.

This photograph shows the solar panels connected to a plant-growing box that contains 60 water spinach seeds. (Renyuan Li via SWNS)

Senior author Professor Peng Wang said: "Our design makes water out of air using clean energy that would have been wasted.

"It is suitable for decentralized, small-scale farms in remote places like deserts and oceanic islands."

The experiment was carried out in June - when the weather in Saudi Arabia was very hot.

Water - solely collected from air - irrigated spinach seeds planted in a plastic plant-growing box.

Over two weeks the solar panel, about the size of a school desk top, generated a total of 1,519 watt-hours of electricity.

What is more, 57 of the 60 of seeds sprouted and grew normally to 18 centimeters (7 inches).

Prof Wang said: "Our goal is to create an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production, especially the water-creation part in our design, which sets us apart from current agrophotovoltaics."'

This photograph shows the solar photovoltaic panels, which use a water-absorbing hydrogel underneath to help stay cool and increase their efficiency. (Renyuan Li via SWNS)

The design offers a sustainable, cheap strategy to improve food and water security for people in arid regions.

Silicon panels, made of solar or 'photovoltaic' cells, are placed on top of a material called hydrogel. It absorbs vapour from ambient air.

The team at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal drove the water out using heat from the electricity.

It collected in a metal box underneath. The hydrogel also increased the efficiency of the solar panels by nine percent by lowering the temperature.

In total, about two liters of water were condensed from the hydrogel during the study period.

Prof Wang said: "Making sure everyone on Earth has access to clean water and affordable clean energy is part of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

"I hope our design can be a decentralized power and water system to light homes and water crops."

The proof-of-concept system, called WEC2P, is described in Cell Reports Physical Science.

To turn it into reality, the researchers plan to create a better hydrogel that can absorb more water from the air.

Added Prof Wang: "A fraction of the world’s population still does not have access to clean water or green power, and many of them live in rural areas with arid or semi-arid climate."


Spinach is renowned for being good for health. It is famous for being Popeye the Sailor's favorite food.

The cartoon character always grabbed a tin to boost his biceps - before defeating bad-boy Bluto.

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