MIT develops revolutionary graphene material for steam energy

21 Jul 2014

The material under testing. Image via MIT

MIT has developed a potentially revolutionary graphene sponge that uses a combination of steam and solar energy to create a clean energy efficiency of 85pc.

The process converts steam energy created by directing sunlight on the material into useable energy, something which is considered a viable option financially given that once it is developed on a larger scale will be more efficient than standard solar panels.

The actual structure placed on top of the body of water consists of a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam that is both porous and insulating.

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, meaning the brighter the light, the more steam is generated.

According to MIT News, the entire setup loses little heat in the process and, more importantly, can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity at an equivalent of 10 times an average sunny day, in comparison with 1,000 times with existing steam-to-energy systems.

If the technology were to be scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.

Hadi Ghasemi, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has said the material’s inexpensive production cost could bring great benefits.

“Steam is important for desalination, hygiene systems, and sterilisation. 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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic