Cheap, facile, and upscalable activated carbon-based photothermal layers for solar steam generation

RSC Adv. 2020 Nov 23;10(69):42432-42440. doi: 10.1039/d0ra07746a. eCollection 2020 Nov 17.


Solar-to-steam generation characterized by nanostructured photothermal materials and interfacial heating is developed based on various carbon nanostructures such as graphene, reduced graphene oxide, CNT, or their combinations. However, multiple and sophisticated synthetic steps are required to generate macroscopic porosity in photothermal devices for the efficient mass transport of water and generated steam. Additionally, the fabrication of photothermal layers on a practical scale constitutes the main hurdle for real applications toward solar-driven desalination. Herein, we report on the development of highly efficient photothermal layers with a commercially available low-cost material, activated carbon (AC), by using facile filtration and spray coating methods, which lead to the generation of intraparticle porous structure without any additional processing. The AC-based photothermal layers generated 1.17 kg m-2 h-1 of steam under 1 sun, and 4.7 wt% of polyethyleneimine coating on AC enhanced steam generation by 8.5% under 1 sun, corresponding to 1.27 kg m-2 h-1 of the water evaporation rate and 85.66% of the photothermal conversion efficiency. This was due to improvements in light absorption and water uptake properties with the additional advantage of mechanical robustness. The outdoor solar-to-steam generation test with the spray-coated A4-sized photothermal layer in conjunction with the desalination test demonstrated the potential for practical desalination application with upscalability.