Copper Nanorods Reduce Energy Needed by an Order of Magnitude
After super-efficient solar panels that are "hairy" on the nanoscale, here come "hairy" pots & pans, as well as computer chip heatsinks and other heat-transferring devices. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute made the "unexpected" discovery: "by adding an invisible layer of the nanomaterials to the bottom of a metal vessel, an order of magnitude increase in efficiency is achieved in bringing water to boil. [...] The potential applications for this discovery are vast and exciting, and we're eager to continue our investigations into this phenomenon."
Boiling: Now with More Bubbles!
When using their copper nanotech coating, the researchers "observed a 30-fold increase in active bubble nucleation site density — a fancy term for the number of bubbles created — on the surface treated with copper nanotubes, over the nontreated surface." Read on to find out how these bubbles help.
Bringing water to a boil, and the related phase change that transforms the liquid into vapor, requires an interface between the water and air. [...] Even though most of the water inside of the pot has reached 100 degrees Celsius and is at boiling temperature, it cannot boil because it is surrounded by other water molecules and there is no interface — i.e., no air — present to facilitate a phase change. [...]
Koratkar and his team found that by depositing a layer of copper nanorods on the surface of a copper vessel, the nanoscale pockets of air trapped within the forest of nanorods "feed" nanobubbles into the microscale cavities of the vessel surface and help to prevent them from getting flooded with water. This synergistic coupling effect promotes robust boiling and stable bubble nucleation, with large numbers of tiny, frequently occurring bubbles.
So the water isn't getting hot any faster, but it turns to steam faster. So if you're cooking, you get the signal that it has reached the right temperature sooner (and that can save some energy).
Cleaner Electricity Generation? Better Solar Thermal?
Most power plants boil water to make turbines turn. Could this discovery be useful in making these power plants more efficient? Probably too early to tell how it will be used, but if it makes it easier to produce steam, it should help. We can already speculate that such a material might be adapted to make solar thermal power plants harness the heat produced by the light of the sun more effectively.
Boiling is ultimately a vehicle for heat transfer, [...] This new discovery allows this process to become significantly more efficient, which could translate into considerable efficiency gains and cost savings if incorporated into a wide range of industrial equipment that relies on boiling to create heat or steam.
"If the time taken to boil a given quantity of water is reduced by an order of magnitude, that should translate into significant cost savings"
Definitely a technology with lots of green potential. We'll keep an eye on it.
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On the Boil: New Nano Technique Significantly Boosts Boiling Efficiency
Nanomaterials Reduce Energy Needed To Boil Water