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January 16, 2011

Making fuel from sunlight

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

"High-Flux Solar-Driven Thermochemical Dissociation of CO2 and H2O Using Nonstoichiometric Ceria," by W.C. Chueh et al. Science, January 2011



Because solar energy is available in large excess relative to current rates of energy consumption, effective conversion of this renewable yet intermittent resource into a transportable and dispatchable chemical fuel may ensure the goal of a sustainable energy future. However, low conversion efficiencies, particularly with CO2 reduction, as well as utilization of precious materials have limited the practical generation of solar fuels. By using a solar cavity-receiver reactor, we combined the oxygen uptake and release capacity of cerium oxide and facile catalysis at elevated temperatures to thermochemically dissociate CO2 and H2O, yielding CO and H2, respectively. Stable and rapid generation of fuel was demonstrated over 500 cycles. Solar-to-fuel efficiencies of 0.7 to 0.8% were achieved and shown to be largely limited by the system scale and design rather than by chemistry.

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