In the search to supply humankind’s seemingly insatiable need for energy, it has been suggested that natural water evaporation may represent a promising alternative to the renewable sources in current use. Now, a research team including Bilkent graduate Özgür Şahin (EE/’01), a biophysicist and associate professor in the Department of Physics at Columbia University in the US, has published a new paper in the journal Nature Communications that estimates evaporation from US lakes and reservoirs could theoretically supply close to 70 percent of the country’s electricity needs.
Nearly half of the solar energy absorbed at the Earth’s surface drives evaporation, which affects ecosystems, water resources, weather and climate. Recent studies demonstrate the ability to convert evaporation energy into work, yet there is little understanding of the availability, reliability and potential of this source.
In their paper, Dr. Şahin and his colleagues develop a model to describe how an evaporation-driven engine affects the evaporation rate and provide predictions on how these energy harvesters could optimally perform in the natural environment.
Their findings indicate that the power available from evaporation is comparable to wind and solar power, and further is less affected by varying weather conditions. In addition, the technology can cut evaporative water losses nearly in half, meaning that such energy-harvesting systems can provide another significant benefit in regions suffering from periods of water stress and scarcity.
The research team hopes these newly published findings will motivate work to improve materials and devices that convert energy from evaporation and provide a way to address the intermittency problem of renewable energy.