Resonant energy transfer enhances solar thermal desalination†
Evaporation-based solar thermal distillation is a promising approach for purifying high-salinity water, but the liquid-vapor phase transition inherent to this process makes it intrinsically energy intensive. Here we show that the exchange of heat between the distilled and input water can fulfill a resonance condition, resulting in dramatic increases in fresh water production. Large gains (500%) in distilled water are accomplished by coupling nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation with dynamic thermal recovery, achieved by controlling input flow rates as a function of incident light intensity. The resonance condition, achieved for the circulating heat flux between the distillate and feed, allows the system to behave in an entirely new way, as a desalination oscillator. The resonant oscillator concept introduced here is universal and can be applied to other systems such as thermal energy storage or solar-powered chemical reactors.