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Comment Processing & Handling

Nanoscale particles help produce steam

By Scott Jenkins |

A research group at Rice University (Houston; www.rice.edu) has developed a method for vaporizing water into steam using sunlight-illuminated nanoparticles, with only a small fraction of the energy heating the fluid. Sub-wavelength metal or carbon particles are intense absorbers of optical radiation. When dispersed in a liquid, the light-absorbing nanoparticles can quickly reach temperatures well above water’s boiling point, where the liquid becomes steam, and the particles remain in the liquid phase. A thermodynamic analysis conducted by the Rice team showed that 80% of the absorbed sunlight energy converted liquid to vapor, while 20% of absorbed light energy went toward heating the liquid surrounding the nanoparticles, say the researchers. The group applied the technique to ethanol-water distillation, and found that the distillate contained a higher percentage of ethanol than what would be predicted by the water-ethanol azeotrope. The research could advance compact solar energy applications in distillation, desalination and sanitation, especially in resource-poor areas.
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