Nanoparticles Take Solar Desalination to New Heights

Tellurium nanoparticles could help absorb solar radiation or be integrated into sensors and tiny antennas

For at least the last decade, “solar thermal” technologies, in which sunlight is used to convert water into steam that runs electric turbines or performs desalination, has been a kind of darling of the investment community. About six years ago, nanoparticles started to get into this solar-thermal game when Rice University researchers added some nanoparticles to cold water and were able to make steam when they exposed the combination to sunlight.

Since then, a lot of work in what is now termed photo-thermal conversion has turned to the field of plasmonics, which exploits the wave of electrons that are produced when photons strike a metallic surface. However, producing plasmonic nanostructures is certainly not as straightforward as just adding some nanoparticles to water.

Now, researchers in China have combined the ease of adding nanoparticles to water with plasmonics to create a photo-thermal conversion process that exceeds all plasmonic or all-dielectric nanoparticles previously reported.