You'd probably never expect to be reading about ketchup and cleaner energy in the same article, but surprisingly there is a connection. Adam Paxson, one of the core team members of LiquidGlide, a company which invented super slippery surfaces for the inside of ketchup bottles among other things, has started a new company called DropWise that has its eyes on using similar technology to clean up the atmosphere.
DropWise has developed a slippery coating that could dramatically cut the emissions from power plants by making them far more efficient. The coating works with any kind of power plant that relies on steam-driven turbines: coal, natural gas, solar thermal, geothermal, biomass and nuclear.
In these power plants, steam passes through a turbine and is captured in a water condenser that cools it down and turns it into a liquid. This process of hot steam meeting a coolant creates suction that pulls the steam through the turbine to turn the blades and generate electricity. The coating would be applied on the condenser surfaces making it slippery so that the water droplets would be sucked through far more easily instead of building up on the surface, making the turbine much more efficient.
The coating could be added by passing two gasses into the condenser that with the addition of heat would react to form a thin coating within. By controlling the temperature and pressure during the process, DropWise says it can achieve nanometer-level accuracy. Adding the coating is simple and cheap for the power plants, says DropWise, with utilities making back their investment in two to three years.
The company says that each power plant adding the coating reduces emissions equal to taking several thousand cars off the road. If the coating were installed globally, it would have the same CO2-reducing impact as all solar and wind power installations combined.
The other benefit to this technology is that it saves water. Thermal power plants are the second largest consumer of water on the planet. By enhancing the efficiency of the condenser, the coating allows a power plant to generate the same amount of electricity with less coolant water.
The best future is one where all of our energy comes from renewable and water-saving sources, but for now, 90 percent our energy comes from thermal power plants. Anything that could easily slash their emissions and water use is a good idea.
You can watch a short video on the technology below.