Revolutionary steam engine is powered by sunlight

According to the team’s findings, metallic nanoparticles arranged in a certain manner are capable of absorbing sunlight, and after sustained exposure can reach a surface temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the boiling point of water.

In what could be a game-changing technological development, a team of American researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas, recently announced that their solar-powered engine design was capable of producing steam without relying on boiling water, a process that more often than not involves environmentally harmful combustion.

The results were published in the journal ACS Nano, which is one of the magazines released by the American Chemical Society, an industry trade group. According to the team's findings, metallic nanoparticles arranged in a certain manner are capable of absorbing sunlight, and after sustained exposure can reach a surface temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the boiling point of water. Interestingly, the particles can heat up to that level much faster than water can, the group behind the project stated, and roughly 82 percent of the energy gathered was directly utilized to create the steam.

"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," the authors of the report wrote. "Solar-driven, stand-alone waste processing or water purification systems could be developed based on this process."

In a separate statement, the editorial board of ACS Nano celebrated the achievement. Paul Weiss, the publication's editor-in-chief, hailed the design for its potential for changing the way that developing nations can generate electricity and power water purification or waste management facilities.

In its report, the Rice University team did not establish a timeframe for when its prototype would enter a pre-production phase. The group will continue to improve efficiency in their concept until it is ready to be deployed in a commercial form. Regardless of when it is released to the public, however, this technology could change the way that impoverished, developing or wealthy nations power their infrastructure and take care of their citizens.

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