Novel cellulose-based solar thermal conversion material

Water scarcity is one of the major global issues. In recent years, new methods of desalination driven by solar radiation have attracted much attention. The metabolomics research group led by Cui Qiu, a researcher at the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Process Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, developed a new cellulose-based solar photothermal conversion material with high stability, low cost and easy to prepare on a large scale based on the previous research and development of pulp foam materials, through the synergistic enhancement of natural rubber and carbonization of foam surface.

Pulp foam is a cheap and environmentally friendly new porous material. It uses pulp fiber as raw material, using surfactant in pulp fiber dispersion room temperature and pressure air foaming, at the same time, foam can prevent fiber liquid phase flocculation and drying collapse, so as to form a uniform porous structure, filter water drying after drying to prepare foam material. With the help of boron ion crosslinking and the introduction of an appropriate amount of natural polymer, researchers developed a new pulp foam material that can realize functional customized processing (Chem. Eng. J., 2019, 371, 34-42;Carbohydr. Polym., 2022, 278, 118963), has great application prospects in the fields of new green packaging, construction, thermal insulation and sound absorption.

In order to further improve the water resistance of pulp foam materials, the researchers introduced natural rubber as a crosslinking agent, and used a simple surface carbonization process to give the carbonized pulp foam material (CPNR) excellent photothermal conversion effect. CPNR consists of a photothermal conversion layer at the top and a pulp foam layer at the bottom, without the need for interfacial bonding or modification. The top photothermal conversion layer has excellent light absorption capacity (93.2%), which can absorb incident sunlight and convert it into heat through photothermal conversion, thereby driving water evaporation. The pulp foam layer in the lower part can transport moisture from the bottom to the top photothermal conversion layer. At the same time, the porous structure, low thermal conductivity (0.1 W mK-1) and rich hydroxyl structure of CPNR give it excellent thermal insulation and water absorption properties (9.9 g g-1). The CPNR prepared in this study reached 1.6 kg m-2 h-1 and 98.1% under simulated sunlight intensity, respectively. In addition, CPNR has excellent salt self-cleaning and salt accumulation prevention properties, and uses a wide range of cellulose sources and simple surface carbonization process, making it significantly more cost-effective than existing photothermal conversion materials. Simulation experiments confirm that the new cellulose-based photothermal conversion materials can be used as water evaporators and are expected to be used in seawater desalination, salt/metal ion concentration and sewage treatment.

Recently, the relevant research results were published in the American Chemical Society – Applied Materials and Interfaces (ACS Appl. Mater. Inter). The research work has been supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Natural Science Outstanding Youth Fund of Shandong Province, the Shandong Energy Research Institute and Qingdao City. The work was jointly completed by Qingdao Energy Institute and Lakehead University in Canada. (Source: Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

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