Architecting highly hydratable polymer networks to tune the water state for solar water purification

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Science Advances  28 Jun 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 6, eaaw5484
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5484


Water purification by solar distillation is a promising technology to produce fresh water. However, solar vapor generation, is energy intensive, leading to a low water yield under natural sunlight. Therefore, developing new materials that can reduce the energy requirement of water vaporization and speed up solar water purification is highly desirable. Here, we introduce a highly hydratable light-absorbing hydrogel (h-LAH) consisting of polyvinyl alcohol and chitosan as the hydratable skeleton and polypyrrole as the light absorber, which can use less energy (<50% of bulk water) for water evaporation. We demonstrate that enhancing the hydrability of the h-LAH could change the water state and partially activate the water, hence facilitating water evaporation. The h-LAH raises the solar vapor generation to a record rate of ~3.6 kg m−2 hour−1 under 1 sun. The h-LAH-based solar still also exhibits long-term durability and antifouling functionality toward complex ionic contaminants.

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