Scientists Create A Sponge-Like Structure To Convert Sunlight Into Steam

Posted: Aug 23 2016, 3:19am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Create a Sponge-Like Structure to Convert Sunlight into Steam
Credit: Jeremy Cho/MIT

The efficient and inexpensive device could replace existing approaches to solar-powered steam generation.

We use boiled water for many purposes, such as making tea, boiling eggs and so on and normally it is done by using kettle and flame.

Now, MIT researchers have developed a sponge-like structure for converting sunlight into steam. The structure directly absorbs sunlight, generates steam through its pores and heats water to boiling temperatures.

The device does not involve any expensive technology like mirror or lenses. Instead, it relies on a combination of relatively low-tech materials to capture sunlight and to use it for generating heat. The heat is then directed toward the pores of the sponge, which pull water up and release it in the form of steam.

The new device is able to convert 20 percent of incoming solar energy into steam and is functional even in gloomy, overcast conditions when very limited amount of sunlight is available. This would mean that if upgraded the device could one day lead to an efficient, inexpensive and emission-free way for creating steam that could have wider applications ranging from desalination and residential water heating, to wastewater treatment and medical tool sterilization.

The new device is already a revamped shape of a solar-absorbing structure also developed by MIT researchers in 2014. It was made up of graphite flakes with underlying carbon foam. Though, that device was able to boil water to 100 C and convert 85 percent of the incoming sunlight to steam but it required a simulated sunlight that was 10 times more intense than the temperatures of the surrounding environment to perform its task at such efficient levels.

To solve this problem, researchers have now used a more efficient material for soaking up solar energy and it is a thin, blue, metallic-like film commonly used in solar water heaters and possesses today. The new material not only did absorbed sunlight but also kept it trapped inside the surface of the sponge and ensured minimal amount of heat lost. The material was also coated with selective absorber and a bubble wrap to produce more desirable results. 

“The device offers a totally new design paradigm for solar steam generation. It eliminates the need of expensive optical concentrator, which is a key advantage in bringing down the cost of the solar steam generation system,” said Tao Deng, professor of material sciences and engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, who was not involved in the study.

“Certainly the clever use of bubble wrap and commercially available selective absorber also helps suppress the convection and radiation heat loss, both of which not only improve the solar harvesting efficiency but also further lower the system cost.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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