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MIT Develops 'Solar Vapor Generator' From Bubble Wrap, Sponge, Sunlight

Sep 12, 2016 09:00 AM EDT

MIT has developed a cheap and easy way to boil water, even when you're in the outdoors, without using a kettle and flame. The new method is surprisingly easy and only needs three key materials: bubble wrap, sponge and the power of sunlight.

According to a press release from MIT News, the "solar vapor generator" is extremely affordable as it only requires everyday cheap materials that's designed to harness the power of sunlight to produce heat. Through the sponge, sunlight goes into its holes and create steam.

“It was relatively low optical concentration. But I kept asking myself, ‘Can we basically boil water on a rooftop, in normal conditions, without optically concentrating the sunlight? That was the basic premise," said Gang Chen, one of the study's authors together with graduate student George Ni.

However, before you get your sponge used in cleaning your dishes, Gizmodo notes that the sponge used in the "solar vapor generator" is different as it is made of graphite and carbon foam. Because of its composition, the special foam could convert 85 percent of the incoming sunlight to steam.

This sponge was developed by MIT back in 2014 as part of its study to convert solar energy to steam. What makes the sponge special is that it could produce steam at low solar intensity.

“Steam is important for desalination, hygiene systems, and sterilization. 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," said Hadi Ghasemi, lead developer of the project from MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering.

MIT notes that their initial design used a thin sheet of copper, but the model did not create enough energy to heat water to boiling point. The solution came from Chen's 16-year-old daughter who managed to heat water up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit using bubble wrap. The bubble wrap's design, when combined with the foam, trapped heat inside that enables the water to boil.

Tao Deng, professor of material sciences and engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, says that the new discovery revolutionizes the "paradigm for solar steam generation."

“It eliminates the need of the expensive optical concentrator, which is a key advantage in bringing down the cost of the solar steam generation system. Certainly the clever use of bubble wrap and commercially available selective absorber also helps suppress the convection and radiation heat loss, both of which not only improve the solar harvesting efficiency but also further lower the system cost," Deng added.

Read More:
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Future of Energy: Rent-to-Own Solar Power the Answer to Free Electricity?
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