Scarcity of water, greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, raising electricity bills, all these factors that send an alarming message to our brain, triggering that guilty feeling inside, every time we go for a relaxing steam room time. But this might soon be over, as MIT researchers developed a new material that generates steam only by being exposed to solar power.
No more wasting of water, no more wasting of power, this is the ultimate solution to a guilt-free spa session. A new material, made from graphite flakes and carbon foam, can float on the water surface, and convert as much as 85% of the solar power that hits it into steam.
The way it works is like a sponge that continuously absorbs and evaporates water. Once it is placed on the surface of a water container, and it is exposed to sunlight, a hotspot forms in the graphite layer. This creates a pressure gradient, which pulls up the water through the carbon foam, and converts it into steam. The amount of heat that is lost during the process is minimal and it works at surprisingly low intensity light.
The graphite-carbon sponge proved to be extremely efficient, a lot more than any other technology that has been developed to produce steam from solar. Currently, to do that, the industry uses mirrors to concentrate the light, and wastes large volumes of water in order to bring it up to boiling temperatures and generate steam.
The new material however, does not require any of this. It is much cheaper and it holds a huge potential for large scale projects that require concentrated sunlight and steam. In particular, because it is cheap to make, the scientists believe that the material will be highly suitable for various steam-powered applications.
The research is published in the Journal Nature Communications.
Image (c) MIT