MIT and UAE's Masdar design solar-to-steam device

The water-buoyant device converts 20% of incoming solar energy into steam at 100°C, and was developed using materials such as bubblewrap and plastic foam

Masdar and MIT have designed a device that uses solar power to generate steam from sunlight. [Image: MIT News]
Masdar and MIT have designed a device that uses solar power to generate steam from sunlight. [Image: MIT News]

The UAE's Masdar Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have unveiled a device that uses solar power to generate steam from sunlight. 

The solar conversion system can help improve the efficiency and affordability of technologies that rely on steam, such as those used for seawater desalination, wastewater treatment, residential water heating, medical tool sterilisation, and power generation. 

MIT's and Masdar's device is buoyuant in water, and converts 20% of incoming solar energy into steam at 100°C without using optical concentration tools. 

Easily available and affordable materials, such as bubblewrap and polystyrene (plastic) foam have been used to make the device. 

Remarking on its development, Dr TieJun Zhang, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Masdar Institute, said: "The system we have developed enables us to generate steam with solar energy without having to rely on direct sunlight.

"The technology is particularly suited for the UAE’s dusty climate, as it fully uses the entire spectrum of sunlight for thermal applications rather than just the direct portion, which can be hindered by the aerosols." 

He added: "The [system] is particularly attractive for hot-arid regions such as Abu Dhabi for potential applications in wastewater treatment, sea water desalination, and even power generation." 

Dr Zhang, in collaboration with Dr Gang Chen, MIT’s mechanical engineering department head; lead author and MIT graduate student George Ni; two MIT researchers; and Masdar PhD students Hongxia Li and Postdoc Weilin Yang, published a paper on the floating receiver last week. 

According to WAM, the solar receiver was "validated at MIT, where it demonstrated the ability to rapidly reach 100°C and generate steam during periods of low direct sunlight, such as during non-summer months and under heavy cloud cover".

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