Extracting water directly from the air would be an immeasurable boon for them.

The team intends for its technology to overcome a notable problem with most materials capable of absorbing water from the atmosphere: aside from needing high humidity, they give up the trapped water only when heated substantially, which takes energy.

It pulls moisture from the air into its large pores and readily feeds the water into a collector in response to low-grade heat from natural sunlight.

Further experimentation with MOF composition should make the technology less expensive, increase the amount of water collected per unit of material and allow researchers to tailor MOFs to different microclimates.

Taking a different tack, a start-up called Zero Mass Water in Scottsdale, Ariz., has begun selling a solar-based system that does not have to be hooked up to an electric grid or an existing water system.

An installed system with one solar panel sells in the U.S. for about $3,700, including a required 10 percent donation toward reducing costs for installations in parts of the globe lacking a water infrastructure.

The same panel that provides luxury, bottle-free water in the U.S., Friesen notes, can also provide clean water to a school that lacks it so that children “Are able to get educated and not get sick.” Over the past year, he says, systems have been placed in the southwestern U.S. and several other countries-among them, Mexico, Jordan and Dubai-and the company has recently shipped panels to Lebanon, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, to provide water to Syrian refugees.