Solar Sponge Generates Steam by Soaking Up the Sun's Rays

MIT researchers have developed a "solar sponge" that uses sunlight to convert water into steam with amazing efficiency. Not only does the sponge effectively convert solar energy into steam, it is also highly insulating to reduce the amount of energy lost. In fact, this sponge can operate in low sunlight, and even naturally amplifies the effects of a sunny day by 10. It currently converts 85% of the incoming sunlight into steam, which is groundbreaking in the solar steam power world.

Currently, Hadi Ghasemi, a postdoctorate at MIT's School of Mechanical Engineering, who spearheaded this research, is thinking the sponge has applications in desalination, sterilization, and hygiene. “Especially in remote areas where the sun is the only source of energy, if you can generate steam with solar energy, it would be very useful,” Ghasemi said in a press release.

The workings of the sponge are deceptively simple. The top layer is made up of graphite flakes, that were created by exfoliating graphite in a common microwave. The bottom layer is made of a carbon sponge that insulates heat, soaks up water, and keeps the sponge afloat. When placed in water and exposed to sunlight the sponge soaks the water underneath up toward the graphite layer that evaporates using the sun's heat, creating steam. In theory, the sponge can work indefinitely, turning every drink into a vapor. The sponge is inexpensive to manufacture and doesn't require complex lenses or gadgets to intensify the suns rays.

Ghasemi plans to continue to experiment with materials in different combinations to improve the sponge's efficiency. “There is still a lot of research that can be done on implementing this in larger systems,” he said.

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