The global demand for clean and safe water will continue to grow well into the 21st century. Moving forward, the lack of access to clean water, which threatens human health and strains precious energy resources, will worsen as the climate changes.
Therefore, future innovations that produce potable water from contaminated sources must be sustainable. Inspired by nature, a solar absorber gel (SAG) is developed to purify water from contaminated sources using only natural sunlight.
The SAG is composed of an elastic thermoresponsive poly(N‐isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm) hydrogel, a photothermal polydopamine (PDA) layer, and a sodium alginate (SA) network. Production of the SAG is facile; all processing is aqueous‐based and occurs at room temperature.
Remarkably, the SAG can purify water from various harmful reservoirs containing small molecules, oils, metals, and pathogens, using only sunlight. The SAG relies on solar energy to drive a hydrophilic/hydrophobic phase transformation at the lower critical solution temperature.
Since the purification mechanism does not require water evaporation, an energy‐intensive process, the passive solar water‐purification rate is the highest reported. This discovery can be transformative in the sustainable production of clean water to improve the quality of human life.