Still use a kettle and flame? You should check out this water-boiling sponge

solar sponge boils water mit sun steam 1 press
Jeremy Cho
What kind of backward-looking, technology-fearing Luddite uses a kettle and flame to boil their water these days? That’s the kind of question we might be able to ask if a research project at MIT continues to gain steam in the way it currently is. Pun intended.

What MIT engineers have invented is a sponge-like device, clad in bubble wrap, which can heat water to boiling temperatures simply by soaking up ambient sunlight. Most impressive of all, it can be constructed from of basic DIY materials.

“We have created a floating solar receiver that generates heat from the sun, and heats water to produce steam,” George Ni, an MIT graduate student working on the project, told Digital Trends. “The novelty of this receiver is the ability to produce steam without any accompanying optical concentrators, such as mirrors and lenses. These optical components are often the dominant costs in solar thermal systems, so our receiver will hopefully expand access to solar thermal systems to more people.”

George Ni

The project first started in 2014 (check out Digital Trends’ original article here) but the current design offers a number of significant advances since that point. First is the aforementioned ability to reach temperatures of 100°C without any focusing optics technology. Second is the fact that the new prototype is made out of commercially-available materials, many available at local home improvement stores.

“Several of the materials, like bubble wrap and thermal foam, were bought at Home Depot,” Ni continued. “These are common materials that most people should have access to. We combined them in an innovative way to complement each other for steam generation. Ordinary materials combine together to achieve more than the sum of parts.”

In terms of applications, Ni said that there are several interesting real-world use cases. “We anticipate several applications, from seawater desalination to wastewater treatment, to medical device sterilization,” he said. “Additional testing and development is needed for each of those applications. However, we think we have developed a platform that can potentially be low cost and scalable to both small and large sizes.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

4 small appliances that have changed the way we cook food (for the better)

These are exciting times for home cooks seeking to advance or simplify their technique in the kitchen, thanks in part to four small appliances that have made a splash in the past few years. Here’s why you should consider buying them.
Smart Home

The best oven ranges, whether you’re a chef or just need to heat up a pizza

Finding an oven that is right for you is hard. Whether you're a novice looking for an entry-level gas oven or a master chef looking to upgrade to the best, here are some of the best oven ranges available now.
Emerging Tech

Does a steam-powered spacecraft hold the key to exploring the solar system?

A newly developed spacecraft prototype capable of using steam as a propellent may help the first miners survey potential dig sites and identify space rocks best fit for mining missions. Future versions may be fitted with sensors, allowing…
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.
Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Emerging Tech

InSight’s heat probe will dig 16 feet beneath the surface of Mars

New images from NASA's InSight mission to Mars have confirmed that the lander succeeded in setting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument onto the surface, from where a self-hammering spike will burrow downwards.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?