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Earth Power Hardware

New Sunlight Reactor Produces Fuel 269

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the summon-danny-boyle dept.
eldavojohn writes "A new reactor developed by CalTech shows promise for producing renewable fuel from sunlight. The reactor hinges on a metal oxide named Ceria that has very interesting properties at very high temperatures. It exhales oxygen at very high temperatures and inhales oxygen at very low temperatures. From the article, 'Specifically, the inhaled oxygen is stripped off of carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or water (H2O) gas molecules that are pumped into the reactor, producing carbon monoxide (CO) and/or hydrogen gas (H2). H2 can be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells; CO, combined with H2, can be used to create synthetic gas, or "syngas," which is the precursor to liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Adding other catalysts to the gas mixture, meanwhile, produces methane. And once the ceria is oxygenated to full capacity, it can be heated back up again, and the cycle can begin anew.' The only other piece of the puzzle is a large sunlight concentrator to raise the temperature to the necessary 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The team is working on modifying and refining the reactor to require a lower temperature to achieve the two-step thermochemical cycle. Another issue is the heat loss which the team claims could be reduced to improve efficiency to 15% or higher. Since CO2 is an input, the possibility exists for coal and power plants to collect CO2 emissions to be used in this process which would effectively allow us to "use the carbon twice." Another idea listed is that a "zero CO2 emissions" is developed along these lines: 'H2O and CO2 would be converted to methane, would fuel electricity-producing power plants that generate more CO2 and H2O, to keep the process going.' The team's work was published last month in Science."
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New Sunlight Reactor Produces Fuel

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  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @01:57PM (#34929760) Homepage Journal

    Another idea listed is that a "zero CO2 emissions" is developed along these lines: 'H2O and CO2 would be converted to methane, would fuel electricity-producing power plants that generate more CO2 and H2O, to keep the process going.'

    So basically, it would be a solar-powered station that could run around the clock using methane as a storage medium. I know that for as awesome as this sounds, it is equally unlikely to ever come to fruition to the extent that it is explained here.

  • Loads of Potential (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Philomage (1851668) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @02:00PM (#34929808)

    The summary covers a lot of it, but this is pretty fascinating (if it reaches production): something that can be added to the exhaust of a fossil fuel power generation station that reduces the carbon footprint and provides fuel to use in either that or other processes in addition to supplying oxygen for other processes. All it really takes is concentrated sunlight for an energy source.

    I'd be interested to see in a few years what other uses are figured out for it.

    We live in interesting times...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @02:39PM (#34930272)

    gasp, or wait until they build better reactors, or gasp, wait until they scale to MW size reactors, or gasp, use it in places where turbines make no sense, or gasp, use it in addition to turbines.

  • Nuclear (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @03:31PM (#34931038)
    "The only other piece of the puzzle is a large sunlight concentrator to raise the temperature to the necessary 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit."

    or better yet, rather than wait for some pie in the sky orbital solar array... how about use a nuclear reactor so we can make this a viable option NOW and get the infrastructure in place. Once these devices are in common use, it would be economically prudent to convert them to solar power as soon as the tech was available. Making hydrocarbon fuels from nuclear power would be a huge step in the right direction, this all green or nothing attitude is what's killing progress in the field.

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