I have been watching the nanoparticle industry closely for the last few years. I strongly suspect that this is an industry where we will see a Moore’s Law type explosion in technological advances. The result will be new approaches to solving old problems. In a paper published yesterday by several scholars from Rice University, a new breakthrough in photothermal nanoparticles was announced. In short they have discovered that light capturing nanoparticles will convert sunlight into heat, and when submerged in water they quickly produce steam. The energy efficiency of this process is 24% compared to a 15% energy efficiency for photovoltaics.
Here is a quote from the paper’s conclusion section that summarizes the potential of their findings:
These results clearly indicate that solar steam generation is a process that has significant potential for use in a wide variety of energy- and sustainability-relevant applications. Solar-driven, standalone waste processing or water purification systems could be developed based on this process. High-temperature (~115 C and above) steam produced directly using sunlight could also be used for compact sterilization or sanitation purposes, from the processing of medical waste to the cleaning of medical or dental equipment, minimizing the resource, time and input chemical requirements demanded by current methods. With further development, this approach may be adaptable to higher pressures and other working fluids to drive turbines in solar energy harvesting applications. This approach may also be modified to harvest radiant energy from sources other than the sun, for instance, for the capture of waste energy from geothermal, residential, or biological sources.
The discovery of the researchers clearly has exciting potential to impact several fields. These types of scientific discoveries make me optimistic that we truly are heading towards a post scarcity future. It will certainly be exciting to watch these findings translate into commercial applications.