Making Steam Without Boiling Water, Thanks to Nanoparticles

Making Steam Without Boiling Water, Thanks to Nanoparticles

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It is possible to create steam within seconds by focusing sunlight on nanoparticles mixed into water, according to new research. That observation, reported by scientists at Rice University in Texas, suggests myriad applications in places that lack electricity or burnable fuels. A sun-powered boiler could desalinate sea water, distill alcohol, sterilize medical equipment and perform other useful tasks.

The experiment is more evidence that nanoscale devices — in this case, beads one-tenth the diameter of a human hair — behave in ways different from bigger objects. In the apparatus designed by the Rice team, steam forms in a vessel of water long before the water becomes warm to the touch. It is, in effect, possible to turn a container of water into steam before it gets hot enough to boil. The research is being funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the hope it might prove useful to developing countries.

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