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It’s Boiling Under The Sun

Basic physics states that steam cannot exist without a boiling liquid.

An innovative and possibly revolutionary new method of utilizing solar power follows that law.

The problem with steam power is the inefficiency and waste associated with the initial boil of a liquid.

Traditional methods of boiling liquid are dependent on convection, a process involving both conduction (heat diffusion) and advection (heat transfer by bulk fluid flow) whereby heat is introduced to the material.

Slowly the temperature of the liquid increases from the heat application area to the other areas of the liquid. This is the method stove-top heating elements use, among a vast array of other heat sources.

However, researchers have discovered a method based on the use of metallic nanoparticles. Previous research on the potential uses of nanoparticles in solar power technologies has focused almost entirely on using them to increase the ability of fluids to conduct heat. There hadn’t been any research done on the abilities of nanoparticles mixed into fluids though, which is what the new research aimed to explore.

It was discovered that nanoparticles illuminated by light can quickly rise to temperatures about 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the boiling point of water. Steam forms around the nanoparticles, and the vapor escapes from the particle, floats to the top of the surface and escapes as steam. There is no heating element used, aside from the sun, and there is no waste associated with the heating, since the liquid essentially steams itself.

Paul Weiss, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of ACS Nano, the journal in which the new study was published, addressed the potential uses and benefits of solar-powered steam production.

The potential societal benefits are staggering. They include more energy-efficient distillation of alcohol, a new a highly practical strategy for desalination and water purification and compact solar-driven sources of steam for sterilization and sanitation in resource-poor locations said Weiss.

Other potential applications include cancer treatment, “laser-induced drug release,” and enhanced bio-imaging.

Solar power is on the edge of a revolution, not just for energy, but also for society. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the upcoming years.

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