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Solar Energy Harnessed Enables Night Use

Researchers create a device that converts the solar energy into hydrogen fuel.

Solar energy has many benefits over fossil fuels, the issue is it can only be harvested during the day. Researchers might have found the solution. Different from being dependent on direct solar energy, hydrogen fuel can be stored for a later use.

Professor of Chemistry at UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences Tom Meyer says. “Our new findings may provide a last major piece of a puzzle for a new way to store the sun’s energy, it could be a tipping point for a solar energy future.”

A new device is known as a dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell. It generates hydrogen fuel by using the energy off the Sun to split water into it’s component parts. After the split, hydrogen is sequenced and stored while oxygen is released.

Meyer says splitting water is very difficult. The process involves taking four electrons away from two water molecules, and transferring them elsewhere to make hydrogen. After that you must keep the hydrogen seperate from the oxygen, Oxygen is the byproduct. Designing molecules capable of that is a really big challenge.

Meyer has been researching a way to harness solar energy for years at the Energy Frontier Research Center at UNC. His design has two components. The molecule, a chromophore-catalyst assembly, absorbs sunlight then starts the catalyst to take electrons away from water.  Then there is the nanoparticle, where thousands of chromophore-catalyst assemblies are tethered. It is supposed to take electrons away to make the hydrogen fuel.

However, even with numerous attempts this system continues to crash. Either the chromophore-catalyst assembly kept breaking away from the nanoparticles, or the electrons couldn’t be shuttled away fast enough to produce hydrogen.

Meyer turned to the Parsons group to assist him with his research. They helped use a technique that coated the nanoparticle. It was coated with a thin layer of titanium dioxide, this enabled the nanoparticle to take away the electrons at a faster rate. They also designed a stronger chromophore-catalyst assembly platform to prevent it from breaking away from the nanoparticles.

With the help of the Parsons group Meyers device was able to harness solar energy. This might be the big breakthrough for us so we can harness solar energy to use throughout the night.

About Steve Z

  • http://www.dailykos.com/user/shpilk shpilk

    On a larger scale, capturing the heat from solar energy and storing it in molten salt is already in place. The heat from the molten salt is then used to spin turbines and create electricity.

    It’s operational and cost effective in the US Southwest and Spain.

  • Jeffrey Whittaker

    So many solar projects fail! I suggest that balancing light on a central point will cause it to reproduce thereby creating energy! I haven’t tried it myself yet, but I wanted to put that idea out there and see if it makes sense to anyone!