Using Nanoparticles to turn Solar Energy into Steam
90% of the world’s electricity is produced from steam, and most industrial steam is generated in large boilers—but researchers at Rice University have recently developed a method to convert solar energy into steam using nanoparticles, allowing energy-creation on a smaller, greener, more economical scale. The team created metallic nanoparticles designed to absorb a wide spectrum of solar energy and therefore heat up. When billions of these nanoparticles are submerged in water and then exposed to sunlight, their temperatures rise quickly to above the boiling point of water, and after 5–20 seconds, they vaporise the water around them and create steam. They can even produce steam from icy cold water. At this unrefined stage, they have an overall energy efficiency of 24%, which is impressive considering the 15% efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels—and this efficiency will only increase as the technology is refined. “This is about a lot more than electricity,” says Naomi Halas, lead researcher. “With this technology, we are beginning to think about solar thermal power in a completely different way.” The method is not initially expected to be used in electricity generation, but rather in sanitation and water-purification applications in developing countries.
Read the Rice University press release