Scientists have figured out how to clean bacteria-free water with bacteria

A solar steam generator is a device that uses an abundance of solar energy to separate

clean water from pollutants byevaporation. Previously, many different versions of these devices with different efficiencies were invented. To develop better solar steam generators, researchers must find ways to improve light absorption, heat management, water transfer, and evaporation.

Professor Shu-Hong Yu and his colleagues from the UniversityChina's science and technology wanted to combine all four improvements in one device. They chose wood as the basis for their generator because of its stability and porous structure, which provides fast water transport.

Scientists made their device usingbacteria that produced long cellulose nanofibres. They also connected the layers of the device together. A team of researchers added bacteria to the surface of a wooden block and allowed them to roam.

Then scientists sprayed a glass aerosolbubbles - tiny hollow spheres that provide excellent thermal insulation - to the surface. Spheres began to penetrate into cellulose nanofibers produced by bacteria, forming a hydrogel. Finally, the researchers added carbon nanotubes, which messed up with cellulosic nanofibers, forming a vaporizing top layer that absorbs light.

The solar steam generator has a top layer(black) from light-absorbing carbon nanotubes, the middle layer (gray) from heat-insulating glass bubbles and the lower layer (brown) from wood that carries water. Provided by: Nano letters

The device works by transporting water upthrough wood to a light-absorbing layer that is heated by the sun. Water evaporates, and steam is collected and condensed to produce clean water. The insulating layer of the glass spheres prevents heat transfer down through the device and its loss. At this time, nanoscale structures reduce the energy needed to evaporate water. As a result, the new device has a higher evaporation rate and efficiency than most existing solar steam generators.

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