Reactor uses sunlight to make hydrocarbon fuel

Jan 12, 2011

Researchers have developed a reactor that can rapidly produce fuel from sunlight, using carbon dioxide and water, plus a compound called ceric oxide.

This process is akin to the way grow, using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugar-based polymers and aromatics.

Plants grow by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugar-based polymers and aromatics.

These compounds in turn can be stripped of their oxygen, either through thousands of years of underground degradation to yield , or through a rather more rapid process of dissolution, fermentation and hydrogenation to yield biofuels.

Yet right now, converting sunlight into a chemical fuel isn’t the most effective process, and practical generation of solar fuels remains a long way off.

Researchers have recently been exploring alternative possibilities of using sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel without relying on the intervening steps of plant growth and breakdown.

William Chueh and colleagues now demonstrate one possible design, in which concentrated sunlight heats ceric oxide—an oxide of the rare earth metal cerium—to a high enough temperature to shake loose some oxygen from its lattice.

The material then readily strips atoms from either water or to replace what’s missing, yielding hydrogen or carbon monoxide (which in turn can be combined to form fuels using additional catalysts).

With a windowed aperture through which concentrated enters, the solar-cavity reactor is designed to internally reflect light multiple times, ensuring efficient capture of incoming solar energy.

Cylindrical pieces of ceric oxide sit inside the cavity and are subjected to hundreds of several heat-cool cycles to induce fuel production.

The study was published last week in the journal Science.

Explore further: Spinach could lead to alternative energy more powerful than Popeye

More information: "High-Flux Solar-Driven Thermochemical Dissociation of CO2 and H2O Using Nonstoichiometric Ceria," by W.C. Chueh; M. Abbott; D. Scipio; S.M. Haile at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA; C. Falter; P. Furler; A. Steinfeld at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland; A. Steinfeld at Solar Technology Laboratory, Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen, Switzerland. Science, January 2011.

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User comments : 6

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nuge
1 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
I don't know why people are finding this so difficult to understand - GET RID OF THE CARBON! Don't make hydrocarbons; just make hydrogen, and burn that. I'm okay with using this to make feedstock for the plastic industry, but FIND AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL!
ClickHere
5 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2011
Hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store and transport. It leaks through steel. A
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
Hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store and transport. It leaks through steel. A


Metal Hydrides that store the hydrogen at normal temps and only require a little heat to release the hydrogen have been around a while and are constantly getting better, also I doubt very much hydrogen could leak out of your gas tank in the 3-7 days it takes to use it all up like you do with gas.
eryksun
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
I don't know why people are finding this so difficult to understand - GET RID OF THE CARBON! Don't make hydrocarbons


Hydrocarbons have a high energy density and are easy to store, ship, and pipe. A synthetic hydrocarbon fuel cycle is carbon neutral and can also be non-polluting. For example, take the combustion of butanol:

C4H9OH + 6O2 -> 4CO2 + 5H2O + heat

Only water vapor and CO2 are in the exhaust -- no carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, or sulfur dioxide. Isobutanol would be a direct replacement for petrol in our existing fuel supply and distribution infrastructure. It can be used in a standard petrol car without modification.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
also I doubt very much hydrogen could leak out of your gas tank in the 3-7 days it takes to use it all up like you do with gas.


On average, the tank is half full all the time, which gives hydrogen plenty of time to diffuse through the walls and boil off through the pressure release. A great portion of hydrogen is lost in containment because it is such a volatile gas.

And metal hydrides are extremely unsustainable because of the amount of materials they need to hold even a tiny amount of hydrogen.

If you could attach even one carbon atom to the hydrogen to make methane, you would instantly quadruple the amount of hydrogen you can carry per volume of gas, and therefore need less everything to make it work.
electrodynamic
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
Sounds like a biologist should field this one. Why can't someone genetically design some goo to take the raw materials, directly output the fuel we want.