Superhydrophobic sand: a hope for desert water storage and transportation projects†
Sand, an abundant natural resource, is the cause behind the harsh environmental conditions of the desert, such as water shortages and sand storms. Because of the strong hydrophilicity of sand itself, water can be quickly absorbed by sand, which greatly impedes desert greening, water storage and transportation projects. In contrast to this conventional understanding of sand (i.e., superhydrophilicity), we propose the design of “superhydrophobic sand”, aimed to address issues associated with the desert environment and sand resource utilization. In our experiments, three kinds of hydrophobic sands with different surface structures and wettability properties were successfully prepared by cladding nonmetal (SiO2) and metal (Ag and Cu) inorganic materials on sand grain surfaces and then modifying them with low-surface-energy chemicals. Combining superhydrophobicity with desert sand, superhydrophobic sand (PFDS-sand@SiO2) is shown to have excellent water repellency, allowing water to stably remain and flow on such a sand surface without any wetting or permeation. Furthermore, the superhydrophobic sand demonstrates a great water-holding capacity, such that a sand layer with a thickness of 2 cm can sustain a water column height of 35 cm. Very significantly, PFDS-sand@SiO2 exhibits extremely high thermal stability up to 400 °C when used for water storage. This result is unprecedented and sufficient for facing the high-temperature conditions of the desert environment and some others. In addition to reliable water storage, such superhydrophobic sand also demonstrates a great anti-flow-dragging effect during water transportation, whereby a water droplet can smoothly and quickly roll down a simulated sand channel (13 cm length) within 0.3 s (∼0.45 m s−1). All of these manifestations imply the significant potential of such “superhydrophobic sand” in its application to desert water storage and transportation.