MIT Researchers Develop More Efficient Steam Condensation

Oct 17, 2013

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All over the world, the incredibly simple process of steam condensation is used to both generate electricity and produce clean water.  Unfortunately, the condensation process can be somewhat inefficient when used on a large scale. MIT researchers may have finally developed a solution that overcomes both inefficiency and feasibility challenges. According to a variety of sources, the MIT researchers have developed a new coating surface to be applied to condensation equipment.  The coating takes advantage of the hydrophobic effect to increase condensation efficiency, while also providing a durable surface that could potentially last decades. The hydrophobic effect is what causes water to form beads on a windscreen or on the leaves of certain types of plants. The molecules of water are repelled by the service to which they are trying to adhere, causing them to form beads.  This effect makes condensation more efficient because water can be re-collected and put back into the steam generation system. The problem with harnessing the hydrophobic effect for power generation comes by way of durability. Until the breakthrough at MIT, it was not possible to design and build a condensation surface that could withstand the test of time while still operating at high temperatures.  As temperature increases, hydrophobic surfaces tend to degrade.  The new MIT coating appears to solve that problem. According to initial tests, the new coating is a polymer material that could withstand continuous use at temperatures of 100°C or greater.  Most applications currently run at about 40°C, yet degradation is still a problem for condensation surfaces.  If further testing proves the MIT coating to be as durable as predicted, it will have a huge impact on electrical generation and clean water production.

What It Means for IT

In an era of cloud computing, virtualisation and on-demand Internet, the IT industry is increasing its energy needs with every passing day.  Success at MIT could translate into more efficient and cost-effective energy production which, in turn, would make it easier to meet the extensive power needs of web hosting companies, data centres and collocation facilities. If the technology could be adapted for new data centres where on-site power generation is built into the design, it could eventually result in the ability of such facilities to generate excess power that could then be fed back into the grid. Imagine combining a highly efficient solar thermal system with a technologically advanced condensation system to produce all the power a data centre needs. Are we fast approaching the day when individual facilities can generate their own power independent from other sources? If so, worldwide data communications will most certainly be improved.  We would be capable of doing so much more by virtue of no longer being constrained by traditional power sources however that day is still some way off.  For now, we must continue to make do with those resources currently at our disposal.  That means taking advantage of every opportunity to use the most efficient and sustainable energy sources.