Good news for vaporised water fans everywhere: MIT researchers have developed a disc-shaped material structure that generates steam using solar power.
The structure is porous and sponge-like, and floats on water. It looks like the gross dish scrubber in the bottom of your sink, except instead of vaguely smelling like rotten asparagus, MIT's steam-brewing material is made from graphite flakes and carbon, and smells like innovation.
MIT News explained how it turns sunshine into sultry steam:
As sunlight hits the structure, it creates a hotspot in the graphite layer, generating a pressure gradient that draws water up through the carbon foam. As water seeps into the graphite layer, the heat concentrated in the graphite turns the water into steam. The structure works much like a sponge that, when placed in water on a hot, sunny day, can continuously absorb and evaporate liquid.
This isn't the first material to turn solar power into steam, but it's more efficient than its predecessors, converting 85 per cent of available solar power into steam without losing much heat.
Since it's made with inexpensive materials and is easier to set up, the MIT structure could make steam generated by the sun into a viable resource. Steam power is an extremely common source of electricity, and it is usually generated from turbines. A low-cost and environmentally-friendly alternative like this could prove enormously helpful to lower energy costs. There's just one question left: How can graphene make it better? [MIT News]