Condensers are used for a myriad of systems across the planet for multiple reasons, including retrieving water for use in a power plant or as drinkable water from a desalination plant. The speed at which a condenser transitions water vapor to liquid water therefore affects the performance of these plants. Researchers at MIT have recently found a way to improve this speed and it could have a wide-spread impact as approximately 80% of all power plants at some point rely on converting steam back to water.
Typically a condenser uses a hydrophobic material to pull water from the air so it can collect into droplets that fall away. Starting with a hydrophobic pattern on the surface of the condenser, the researchers added a lubricant so the water droplets could move faster along the surface, and that they did. With the lubricant in place, the droplets moved 10,000 times faster than when the surface was tested without the lubricant. The lubricant could be something like oil, which clings to the patterned surface due to capillary forces. These forces are actually useful for maintaining the performance of the condenser as it will hold the oil in place, regardless of the condenser's positioning, and keeps the amount of the lubricant even across the surface.
More research is still needed to find the optimal surface pattern and lubricant combination, but it is already very promising work. With so many systems using condensers, even a 1% increase in efficiency could go a long way.