MIT Announces New Solar to Steam Process

A press published today from the MIT News Office which I think could be of interest to people here:

Steam from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam.

A new material structure developed at MIT generates steam by soaking up the sun.

The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light, the more steam is generated.

The new material is able to convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam — a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. What’s more, the setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. This would mean that, if scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight . . .

The researchers tested the structure by placing it in a chamber of water and exposing it to a solar simulator — a light source that simulates various intensities of solar radiation. They found they were able to convert 85 percent of solar energy into steam at a solar intensity 10 times that of a typical sunny day . . .

The full article can be read here.

So here’s another possible way to make steam a key ingredient in many industrial processes in addition to heating and the generation of electricity. There’s not much data provided here, but even though this is a very interesting discovery it sounds like a lot of engineering would be involved to make this a competitive way to produce steam. There would need to be a large surface area of this material in direct sunlight to produce steam in useful quantities — and then you would need to provide a means to capture the steam and send it to where it could be used.

Any new energy technology is going to have to compete in what could become a crowded marketplace over the next few years. Solar technology is a very popular area for research and development these days. It’s growing fast and seems to be getting more efficient year by year. If and when LENR enters the mix it will be interesting to see how the market sorts out these competing technologies.

  • Alan DeAngelis

    Yeah, if this was the first time that I’ve heard him, that would be my impression too but I’ve heard others like this one.

  • US_Citizen71

    I think its best usage would be for desalination. Low energy requirement, as it only needs power to move and aim your concentrator and pump water in and out. The condenser could be cooled by a combination of air and in/out water flows. The cost to build would be the biggest factor on feasibility.

  • Doug Cutler

    A fresnel lens is a one piece unit cheaply massed produced in acrylic from a mold. Its acts like a high tech version of a good ol’ boy scout magnifying glass. One lens say a foot and a half in diameter can concentrate all the light hitting it onto a spot the size of a poker chip – at least 100 suns.

    In the case of solar thermal a single convex reflector can concentrate light many times. Certain forms of solar thermal do use multiple reflectors focused on a single point, often many hundreds. Engineers in this area have learned to reduce cost over the years.

    As I say, most of these breakthroughs never pan out. This one could be no different. But every once and a while somebody hits a home run and that makes all the other research worthwhile.

    I’d love to see LENR come in and swoop all this away but right now we’re still waiting. Bird in the hand . . .

  • Gerard McEk

    It can be used to efficiently make sweet water! The steam quality will not be such that it can be used to drive something significant.

  • Jonnyb

    Mill’s effort comes to mind on this one. Light to steam maybe this is why he has changed his approach?

  • Alan DeAngelis

    Found something for georgehants (but I hope you can put up will the background noise).

    • Alan DeAngelis

      with the background noise

    • georgehants

      Alan, many thanks, Peter would like the boats I think. :)

  • GreenWin

    A cornucopia for social scientists! The abrupt desperation with which orthodox encumbrances of science (i.e. “elite” science) attempts to compensate for its ignorance of cold fusion. For some three years now we have seen press releases from our highest institutions of learning attempting to defuse the humiliating introduction of commercial LENR. This is one of the more laughable ones. A discovery that requires a non-existent solar day ten times average to reach its ridiculous claim of 85% efficiency.

    It is an amusing drama. To watch MIT’s President Raphael Reif and various department heads attempt to spin, defuse, ameliorate, compensate for the inevitable. The inevitable future in which LENR replaces not only fossil/fission cartels but dozens of silly, crackpot, “fringe” ideas like this one from MIT’s Dept Mechanical Engineering.

    Regardless, social scientists reap an extraordinary “teachable moment.” They will track the solipsistic behavior of our most learned MIT scientists from the 1989 P&F announcement, through their denial and corruption of LENR data. And unless administrators at MIT come forward and openly admit their institution’s complicity in politically-motivated chicanery — their institution and its hard won legacy will slowly, inevitably crumble.

    Certain spiritualists call this “karma.” But karma is deconstructed by two primary acts. Confession and amends. When will Dr. Reif and his band of supplicants bite the bullet and make amends for the repugnant behavior of his predecessors? THIS is the teachable moment in the LENR saga. At what point Dr. Reif, do you stand up and say the three magic words: “We Were Wrong.”

    • Alan DeAngelis

      When the E-Cat makes its début, Tsinghua University will have to be given a higher ranking than MIT.

      • Broncobet

        Stop running down MIT, are you deluded? That is where the finest scientists work and learn. Since you like LENR you must know of their two prominent professors that work in that area. you misunderstood the figures about solar intensity. There is nowhere where you get 5 times solar intensity. They are speaking of systems like concentrators and fresnel lenses. The prior art needed 1,000 suns to work this only needs 10 times hence is one order of magnitude better. The person responsible is Hadi Ghaseni a post doc,let that sink in to how smart he must be and advanced in this area. All scientists are working in areas of unknowns. If they knew everything there would never be the job title “scientist”. We read something like this about once a day or so,of course not one in a hundred ever works out , but that still shows modern science and engineering moving at the fastest rate in our long history on this planet. “When E Cat makes it’s debut Tsingua Univ etc etc yeah you mean when pigs fly? I respect the Chinese so much for their appreciation for the fission tech that they have put the most capable people in charge of and they work with the top people on the planet, us.So you understand; the first son of a Chinese head of state heads an all out effort with 500 PhD’s, in concert with US national labs,let me know when the PhD’s in LENR in China reaches one.

  • Ophelia Rump

    Come on! Have some appreciation, they perfected the solar pond.
    A solar pond is capable of boiling an actual pond by producing a thermal inversion layer where the heat becomes trapped below the surface. To the best of my knowledge this has actually built and prove to boil a pond a real pond.

    The effect I believe was done by floating an extremely fine layer of salt water on the surface of fresh water continuously. A very difficult and impractical implementation of something long thought near impossible to find a practical solution.

    This could actually be significant if this works as it has been described in modern legend.
    I read about this many years ago.

    • Broncobet

      No, they mention sanitation, and clean water as an application.10X sunlight is 10X better than 1000X sunlight concentrated with lenses.

    • Doug Cutler

      Speaking of solar ponds . . . perhaps you might find this interesting – DIY floating solar pool heaters made from black plastic stapled to hula hoops:

      This looks SO cheap it might even beat an E-Cat for this particular use.

  • Christopher Calder

    And how much steam will it produce at night? Solar and wind are going nowhere except down the drain. These silly renewable, but not affordable, energy schemes only hasten economic collapse. They cannot exist in significant amounts without forced government subsides and mandates.

    • Ophelia Rump

      This one could, if they get past the design stage with it.
      It has function at 85% efficiency, it is the best solar ever by 200%, cost effective at the same price, Yes indeed.
      It lacks form. Now they must build it into a practical design. Much work is ahead of them.

      • GreenWin

        Note that the 85% number only arrives on a day TEN times sunnier than average. How often do we get those days? More MIT hogwash.

        • Ophelia Rump

          I wonder if MIT has a world class propaganda team as one of the student activities?

          • NT

            Yes, and could prove to be a cheaper fresh water distillation source from polluted or salt water oceans?

            • Broncobet


        • Doug Cutler

          Concentrating solar radiation is no problem at all. Its done all the time with solar PV most commonly with fresnel lenses which can achieve levels as high as 500 suns. It allows you to use a smaller area of more costly but super efficient NASA grade solar cells. Commercial versions exist on the market. For solar thermal, various configurations of mirrors are used to concentrate sunlight. It all adds to the cost, of course.

          85% efficiency is still very impressive compared to similar tech already in place – but what of the cost? Exotic materials are usually pricey. Many of these breakthroughs never make it through the “valley of death” that lies between lab and marketplace – a journey, I might add, that LENR is still on.

          Still, it is the nature of basic research to exlore all possible combinations of things. Even failure tells us something.

        • Broncobet

          Re read.