High-Performance Salt-Rejecting and Cost-Effective Superhydrophilic Porous Monolithic Polymer Foam for Solar Steam Generation

Direct solar desalination with excellent solar photothermal efficiency, lower cost, and extended generator device lifetime is beneficial to increase potable water supplies. To address fundamental challenges in direct solar desalination, herein, we present a new and facile method for the scalable fabrication of the polymer porous foam (VMP) as salt-resistant photothermal materials, which was synthesized through a one-step hydrothermal method using styrene and 1-vinyl-3-ethylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate as monomers and N,N′-methylenebisacrylamide as the cross-linking agent. The as-resulted VMP shows excellent mechanical properties which could have a compression strain of 30%, resulting in its superior processability for practical operation. In addition, by taking advantage of its inherent low density, well-controlled porous structure (porosity is 73.81%), and extremely low thermal conductivity (0.03204 W m–1 K–1), the VMP exhibits an excellent solar evaporation property, and the solar photothermal efficiency can reach more than 88% under 1 kW m–2 irradiation. Moreover, the introduction of ionic liquid moiety (imidazolium tetrafluoroborate) into VMP results in its interesting superhydrophilic wettability, which can accelerate water transportation (wetting in 5s) and resolve the crystalline salt within 1.13 h. In addition, the interconnected macropores of the VMP, as water channels, can replenish the vaporized brine on the surface to prevent salt from adhering. The VMP shows a salt-resistant performance, for example, its solar evaporation efficiency remains nearly unchanged after 6 h duration under 1 sun irradiation. Based on its simple and cost-effective manufacturing process, excellent solar photothermal efficiency, and salt resistance, our VMP may be a promising candidate as photothermal materials for practical desalination from seawater and other wastewater.