July 30, 2016


Scientists can now create liquid fuel from solar energy (ETH Zurich, 8 July 2016)

The sun's energy is already being harnessed in various ways: whilst photovoltaic cells convert sun light into electricity, solar thermal installations use the vast thermal energy of the sun for purposes such as heating fluids to a high temperature. Solar thermal power plants involve the large-scale implementation of this second method: using thousands of mirrors, the sun light is focused on a boiler in which steam is produced either directly or via a heat exchanger at temperatures exceeding 500 °C. Turbines then convert thermal energy into electricity.

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the ETH Zurich have collaborated to develop a ground-breaking alternative to this approach. The new procedure uses the sun's thermal energy to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into synthetic fuel.

"This allows solar energy to be stored in the form of chemical bonds," explains Ivo Alxneit, chemist at the PSI's Solar Technology Laboratory. "It's easier than storing electricity." The new approach is based on a similar principle to that used by solar power plants." Alxneit and his colleagues use heat in order to trigger certain chemical processes that only take place at very high temperatures above 1000 °C. Advances in solar technology will soon enable such temperatures to be achieved using sun light.

Posted by at July 30, 2016 9:04 AM