Solar desalination is expected to solve the problem of global water shortage. Yet its stability is plagued by salt accumulation. Here, a paper-based thermal radiation-enabled evaporation system (TREES) is demonstrated to achieve sustainable and highly efficient salt-collecting desalination, featuring a dynamic evaporation front based on the accumulated salt layer where water serves as its own absorber via energy down-conversion. When processing 7 wt % brine, it continuously evaporates water at a high rate─2.25 L m-2 h-1 under 1 sun illumination─which is well beyond the input solar energy limit for over 366 h. It is revealed that such enhanced evaporation arises from the unique vertical evaporation wall of the paper-TREES, which captures the thermal energy from the heated bottom efficiently and gains extra energy from the warmer environment. These findings provide novel insights into the design of next-generation salt-harvesting solar evaporators and take a step further to advance their applications in green desalination.
Keywords: brine treatment; paper; solar evaporators; thermal radiation-enabled evaporation; zero liquid discharge.