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High-performance salt-resistant solar interfacial evaporation by flexible robust porous carbon/pulp fiber membrane



Solar evaporation has emerged as an attractive technology to produce freshwater by utilizing renewable solar energy. However, it remains a huge challenge to develop efficient solar steam generators with good flexibility, low cost and remarkable salt resistance. Herein, we prepare flexible, robust solar membranes by filtration of porous carbon and commercial paper pulp fiber. The porous carbon with well-defined structures is prepared through controlled carbonization of biomass/waste plastics by eutectic salts. We prove the synergistic effect of porous carbon and paper pulp fiber in boosting solar evaporation performance. Firstly, the porous carbon displays a high light absorption, while the paper pulp fiber with good hydrophilicity effectively promotes the transport of water. Secondly, the combination between porous carbon and paper pulp fiber reduces the water vaporization enthalpy by 20%, which is important to significantly improve the evaporation performance. As a proof of concept, the porous carbon/paper pulp fiber membrane possesses a high evaporation rate of 1.8 kg m−2 h−1 under 1 kW m−2 irradiation. Thirdly, the good flexibility and mechanical property of paper pulp fiber enable the solar membrane to work well under extreme conditions (e.g., after 20 cycles of folding/stretching/recovery). Lastly, due to the super-hydrophilicity and superwetting, the hybrid membrane exhibits the exceptional salt resistance and long-term stability in continuous seawater desalination, e.g., for 50 h. Importantly, a large-scale solar desalination device for outdoor experiments is developed to produce freshwater. Consequently, this work provides a new insight into developing advanced flexible solar evaporators with superb performance in seawater desalination.


太阳能蒸发是利用太阳能进行淡水生产和海水淡化的一项极具吸引力的技术. 然而, 开发柔性高、成本低、耐盐性好的高效太阳能蒸汽发生器仍然是一个巨大的挑战. 本文利用多孔碳和商业纸浆纤维材料, 通过简单抽滤来制备柔性、耐用的太阳能光热膜. 结构明确的多孔碳利用熔融盐对生物质/废塑料进行可控碳化制备. 我们证明了多孔碳和纸浆纤维在提高太阳能蒸汽性能方面具有协同效应. 首先, 多孔碳表现出优异的光吸收性能和光热效应, 而亲水性的纸浆纤维则能有效地输送水分. 其次, 多孔碳的纳米孔与纸浆纤维的亲水基团相结合, 使水的蒸发焓降低了20%, 这是提高蒸发性能的关键. 比如, 在1 kW m−2辐照下, 多孔碳/纸浆纤维复合膜的蒸发速率高达1.8 kg m−2 h−1. 此外, 纸浆纤维良好的柔韧性和机械性能使复合膜在极端条件下(例如, 经过20次折叠/拉伸/恢复)处理后仍然表现出非常好的性能. 最后, 得益于超亲水性和超湿润性, 复合膜在连续海水淡化过程中表现出优异的耐盐性和长期稳定性. 本文还开发了一种用于室外实验的大型太阳能海水淡化装置, 用于生产淡水. 因此, 这项工作为开发先进的柔性太阳能蒸发器提供了新的策略.


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This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51903099 and 51991353), Huazhong University of Science and Technology (3004013134 and 2021XXJS036), the 100 Talents Program of the Hubei Provincial Government, and the Innovation and Talent Recruitment Base of New Energy Chemistry and Device (B21003). We are grateful to the Analytical and Testing Centre of HUST for access to their facilities.

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Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jiang Gong or Tao Tang.

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Author contributions

Hao L, Gong J, and Tang T designed and engineered the samples; Hao L and Liu N performed the experiments; Hao L wrote the paper with support from Gong J; Gong J, Tang T, and Niu R revised the manuscript. All authors contributed to the general discussion.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Liang Hao received his MSc degree from Zhejiang University of Technology in 2019. He is now a PhD student in Prof. Jiang Gong’s group at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, focusing on the fabrication of carbon materials from polymers for solar evaporation.

Jiang Gong received his BSc degree at Sichuan University (2010) and PhD degree from Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) (2015) under the supervision of Prof. Tao Tang. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces with Prof. Markus Antonietti and Prof. Jiayin Yuan (2015–2017), and the University of Texas at San Antonio with Prof. Banglin Chen (2017–2018). From 2018, he has been a full Professor of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. His current research includes the synthesis of carbon materials for solar evaporation, photocatalysis, and energy storage.

Tao Tang received his BSc degree at Dalian University of Technology (1985), MS Degree at the East China University of Science and Technology (1988) and PhD degree at Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry (CIAC), CAS (1991). He worked at CIAC as research associate (1992–1994), associate professor (1994–1997) and full professor (1997–present). His research interests include polymer nanocomposite and foaming, the carbonization and application of polymer materials, and controllable synthesis of polymers with different chain architectures.

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High-performance salt-resistant solar interfacial evaporation by flexible robust porous carbon/pulp fiber membrane

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Hao, L., Liu, N., Niu, R. et al. High-performance salt-resistant solar interfacial evaporation by flexible robust porous carbon/pulp fiber membrane. Sci. China Mater. (2021).

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  • solar steam generation
  • porous carbon
  • flexible evaporator
  • pulp fiber
  • salt resistance