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Steam generation under one sun enabled by a floating structure with thermal concentration


Harvesting solar energy as heat has many applications, such as power generation, residential water heating, desalination, distillation and wastewater treatment. However, the solar flux is diffuse, and often requires optical concentration, a costly component, to generate the high temperatures needed for some of these applications. Here we demonstrate a floating solar receiver capable of generating 100 C steam under ambient air conditions without optical concentration. The high temperatures are achieved by using thermal concentration and heat localization, which reduce the convective, conductive and radiative heat losses. This demonstration of a low-cost and scalable solar vapour generator holds the promise of significantly expanding the application domain and reducing the cost of solar thermal systems.

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Figure 1: Operating principles of steam generation at one sun.
Figure 2: One-sun, ambient steam generator.
Figure 3: Vapour generation experimental results.
Figure 4: Outdoor performance under natural sunlight.
Figure 5: Analysis of a large-scale OAS performance.


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We thank D. Kraemer with help operating the solar simulator, and T. McClure and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering for the use of the FTIR. This work was partially supported by the Cooperative Agreement between the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (Masdar Institute), Abu Dhabi, UAE and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA—Reference 02/MI/MIT/CP/11/07633/GEN/ G/00 (for the steam generation). We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the MIT S3TEC Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences under Award # DE-FG02-09ER46577 (for the experimental facility). We also thank Z. Lu and E. Wang for their help in understanding the evaporation processes.

Author information




G.N., S.V.B. and G.C. developed the concept. G.N. and G.L. conducted the experiments. G.N., H.L., W.Y. and T.Z. prepared the models. G.N., S.V.B. and G.C. wrote the paper. G.C. directed the overall research.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gang Chen.

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Competing interests

The authors have applied for a patent for this technology, but have no other competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–10, Supplementary Notes 1–8, Supplementary References. (PDF 804 kb)

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Ni, G., Li, G., Boriskina, S. et al. Steam generation under one sun enabled by a floating structure with thermal concentration. Nat Energy 1, 16126 (2016).

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