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Just in time for the holidays, research out of Naomi Halas‘s group at Rice University shows that nanoparticles can do what we’ve been waiting for all along: distill alcohol. The Halas group is known for making gold nanoshells, consisting of a 60-120nm silica core coated with 10-20nm of gold. The silica core is made colloidally by reacting silica monomers in the presence of a micellar surfactant. Then, the gold shell is applied by reducing gold ions on the surface of the silica.

These nanoparticles have interesting optical properties, including absorbances in the near infrared. The group has used these nanoshells primarily for cancer therapy due to their local heating properties. Luckily, that same surface heating effect can be used to efficiently create steam… and distill alcohol.

The paper, published in November in ACS Nano, explains that nanoshells can produce steam efficiently in sunlight because the particles can heat the liquid near the nanoshell surface to vapor without heating the bulk of the liquid. The surface heating effect is a result of the nanoshells absorbing the infrared portion of the solar spectrum, converting it to heat. They emphasize applications like solar sterilization using the nanoshell-created steam.

Here at the Berkeley Science Review, we write a lot about the good things nanotechnology can do. Nanoparticles can produce hydrogen, increase efficiency in solar cells, aid in quantum computing, look pretty, and much, much more. It’s about time to add alcohol distilling to the list.




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