Generating steam is enormously useful. Much of the world’s energy actually comes from steam—coal power plants heat up water to produce water vapor, which turns turbines to generate electricity. A new technology creates steam by harnessing solar energy, using a relatively cheap sponge-like material, and it does it with greater efficiency that ever previously achieved, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers don’t claim the device could be used to create electricity, at least not yet. But it could relatively easily be scaled up to make fresh water out of salt water via distillation, for example, or to sterilize medical or food-processing equipment in areas of the world where electricity is hard to come by, said MIT researcher Hadi Ghasemi in a statement.