A water lily–inspired hierarchical structure was designed for stable and efficient solar desalination and wastewater treatment.
In recent years, interfacial solar vapor generation has shown great potential in realizing desalination and wastewater treatment with high energy conversion efficiency. However, high evaporation rate cannot be maintained because of the seemingly unavoidable fouling or salt accumulation on the solar absorbers. The degradation accelerates as the solute concentration increases. Here, we demonstrate a water lily–inspired hierarchical structure that enables efficient evaporation (~80% solar-to-vapor efficiency) out of high-salinity brine [10 weight % (wt %)] and wastewater containing heavy metal ions (30 wt %). More notably, neither decrease in evaporation rate nor fouling on absorbers was observed during the entire evaporation process until water and solute were completely separated. With the capabilities of stable and high-rate evaporation out of high-salinity brine and the effective separation of solute from water, it is expected that this technology can have direct implications in various fields such as wastewater treatment, sea-salt production, and metal recycling.