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By Edited by Gerald Ondrey |

Solar desalination Researchers at Rice University (Houston, Tex.; www.rice.edu) working on nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation (NESMD) have found that concentrating sunlight on small areas of the desalination membrane leads to a non-linear improvement in performance in vapor pressure, which forces more purified (salt-removed) steam through the membrane in less time. NESMD is an enhanced form of membrane distillation that uses sunlight-harvesting nanoparticles to convert photons into heat, and reduces production costs of the system. The Rice team showed that increasing photon intensity in smaller areas boosts the efficiency of their NESMD system by more than 50% compared to a homogeneous distribution of photons over the entire membrane. The sunlight was concentrated into “hot spots” using inexpensive plastic lenses. Conventional membrane distillation works by having hot, salty water flow on one side of the membrane, while cool filtered water flows on the other side. The resulting difference in vapor pressure drives steam (but not salt) from the heated side to pass through the membrane to the cooler, lower-pressure side.
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