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A revolutionary use of solar energy developed by Rice University scientists

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A revolution in solar energy developed by Rice University scientists.

Thanks to a new innovation from scientists, it is now possible to use solar energy to sterilize medical and dental equipment and human waste without using electricity. The technology means almost 2 billion people live in areas of the world without a regular supply of electricity will have access to better medical care.

The device also means fewer germs that spread disease from human and animal waste.

The prototype was highlighted at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) yesterday.

Using solar energy for sterilizing medical equipment has never before been accomplished. In areas with no electricity, medical personnel have to rely on expensive chemicals to destroy germs that can otherwise infect large numbers of people.

Regular autoclaves used to clean and disinfect medical and dental instruments and waste rely on steam generated by electricity.

Naomi Halas, D.Sc with Rice University said in a press release: “We have developed a solution, our solar steam technology. It is completely off-grid, uses sunlight as the energy source, is not that large, kills disease-causing microbes effectively and relatively quickly and is easy to operate. This is an incredibly promising technology.”

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Halas and colleagues have developed two prototypes: One for cleaning medical and dental equipment and another for disinfecting human and animal waste.

The scientists said the solar technology could also be used to generate electricity as well as purifying dirty or salty water for drinking and cooking.

Scientists use 'nanoparticle' that are made of metal to heat water with sunlight.

"Nanoheaters generate steam at a remarkably high efficiency,” Halas said. “More than 80 percent of the energy they absorb from sunlight goes into production of steam. In the conventional production of steam, you would have to heat the entire container of water until it boils, with the bubbles rising to the top to release steam. With nanoheaters, less than 20 percent of the energy heats the neighboring liquid.”

The revolutionary solar technology kills most germs including viruses and generates enough steam to sterilize medical equipment within 5-minutes the researchers said.

Source: American Chemical Society’s 246th National Meeting & Exposition

Oara Neumann, Rice University