How to turn soot into clean energy

A group of American engineers has improved the efficiency of solar cookers using a carbon particle absorber.

Is it possible to make a pollutant dangerous for the environment and health an active element of the ecological transition? According to new American research, yes.

A group of engineers from the University of Houston (USA) and the Intercultural Indigenous University of Michoacán (Mexico) found a how to use soot in clean energy production.

This carbonaceous particulate matter, obtained from the combustion of organic matter, causes a series of health and technological problems. But in the research carried out by professors Francisco Robles-Hernández and Luis Bernardo López-Sosa, it has become a tool of efficiency. The scientists used the soot to improve the performance and efficiency of solar cookersdevices that use the heat of the sun to heat, cook or pasteurize food and drink.

The best materials for absorbing this heat are usually dark-colored carbon compounds, such as graphene or nanotubes. Better, but also more expensive. The team therefore decided to turn to a cheaper and more readily available alternative.

Soot production does not require energy as it is an abundant by-product and its circular reuse helps reduce the carbon footprint. The cost is almost zero, making it cost effective and ideal for solar conversion.

Francisco Robles-Hernandez

Scientists created pellets and flat liners from soot extracted from burnt wood and found that, in most cases, they had even better heat-absorbing properties than their more high-tech counterparts.

To test their invention, the team designed a solar cooker capable of reaching up to 204°C. The production cost of the device? About 150 dollars, while the new soot coating costs only 1 dollar per square meter. At the same time, it has 96% more solar absorption capacity than commercial products.

Researchers say the soot-based heat-absorbing materials could be used in solar stills, heating pipes, water purifiers and industrial drying processes.

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