It could help sterilize medical equipment, or purify/desalinate water in more rural communities where access to electricity is a luxury.
Scientists from MIT have come up with a composite structure that generates super-heated steam from water using only sunlight. It is composed of 3 different elemental layers. The top layer is made out of metal and ceramic for better absorption of light. The bottom layer is held just above the water, emitting infrared radiation in the form of heat, whereas the middle layer, a graphite/carbon sponge, heats the steam further as it rises. Combined, they’re about the size of an e-reader.
This eventually culminates in a super-heated steam, clocking in around 100 degrees celsius (212 F). It is then pumped out of a tube where it can be used for a variety of essential, sometimes lifesaving tasks including but not limited to sterilization, cooking, cleaning, drinking, basically anything you can do with either super hot steam or the purified water that eventually condensates. In rural communities where there is no access to electricity, it could mean the difference between life and death.
Scientists tested their device on a rooftop at MIT. Within 3.5 hours of clear, bright weather it produced 146 ºC (295 ºF) steam from a basin of water. In this particular case sunlight was concentrated by a curved a mirror and the device itself – contained inside of a polymer enclosure, in order to insulate even more heat.
“It’s a completely passive system — you just leave it outside to absorb sunlight,” says York University’s Asst. Prof. Thomas Cooper, who led the project while a postdoc at MIT. “You could scale this up to something that could be used in remote climates to generate enough drinking water for a family, or sterilize equipment for one operating room.”
Published in the journal Nature Communications.
cover photo: MIT