A team of U.S. and Swiss scientists have successfully created technology that can turn solar energy to a usable liquid form of fuel. Researchers say that the method used is similar to the way that plants photosynthesize the sun’s energy to create fuel.
While the process has only been tried in lab settings on a small scale, the success of the experiments could open the door to a new world of sustainable energy.
The machine that has been created uses the energy of the sun to superheat the element Cerium. Once heated to a temperature of 1,600 degrees Celsius, the Cerium acts as a catalyst that strips compound elements such as water or carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, respectively. Both the hydrogen and carbon monoxide molecules can then be turned into liquid fuels.
In addition to creating sustainable energy, the Cerium itself is not used up during the chemical reactions, so it can be used multiple times. Researchers say that Cerium is as common as copper, and is the most abundant of the rare earth metals.
Professor Sossina Haile, one of the leaders of the project, said that the current prototype machine is still far from perfect. For example, she points out that their current model is unable to harness a full 1% of the total solar energy that is taken in.
The scientists will continue to work on their machine and believe that it won’t be long before they are able to create a prototype capable of harnessing as much as 19% of the total solar energy input.
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