Rational Design of Photothermal Material for Clean Water Generation Driven by Solar Energy

  • Le Shi

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


An ancient technology of solar-driven water evaporation and distillation has recently been revived due to the concept of interfacial solar evaporation and the development of photothermal materials. There have been many research interests in improving solar light harvesting and solar-to-water evaporation efficiency within these systems, including new photothermal materials search, structural engineering, and thermal management. The application horizon of both solar-driven water evaporation and distillation has been broadly expanded beyond their conventional domain, including now wastewater treatment, seawater desalination, steam sterilization, electric generation, and chemicals/fuels productions. This dissertation focused on designing of photothermal materials and their applications to clean water production. More specifically: (1) a bi-layered porous rGO membrane with a polystyrene (PS) foam as the heat insulator was designed and proved to be effective for reducing heat conduction to the bulk water and to improve the solar-to-water evaporation efficiency, (2) a tandem-structured SiC-C ceramic monolith was prepared and demonstrated to be mechanically and chemically stable to withstand physical or chemical cleaning during long-term use in real seawater and wastewater, (3) in order to simultaneously treat the contaminated water and get clean distillate water, multi-functional SiC foam modified with mesoporous Au/TiO2 nanocomposites has been prepared, which was demonstrated to possess both photocatalytic reduction and oxidation abilities for complex wastewater treatment, and (4) when the water source was contaminated by VOCs, another efficient multi-functional photothermal material was designed with a honeycomb ceramic plate as the matrix material, and a CuFeMnO4 nanocomposite coating layer acting as both photothermal material and Fenton agent for VOCs removal. Therefore, the light absorption property of photothermal material could be improved by using a porous structure, tandem-structure, porous foam or 3D structure. The solar-to-water evaporation efficiency was improved by including a heat insulator and the reduction of the water channels’ dimension. The ceramic-based material showed potential for long-term use with high mechanical strength to endure physical cleaning. Multi-functional photothermal materials were successfully developed for complex wastewater treatment and clean water generation.
Date of AwardNov 2018
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPeng Wang (Supervisor)


  • Photothermal Material
  • Water Evaporation
  • Solar Energy
  • Water Treatment
  • Photo-Fenton Reaction
  • Photocatalytic Reaction

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