A New Era

Endless Energy is Possible

Solar reactor can produce solar hydrogen.

Last spring University of Delaware doctoral candidate Erik Koepf and research associate Michael Giuliano spent two months in Switzerland testing a novel solar reactor Koepf developed to produce hydrogen from sunlight. Eight weeks of sophisticated testing at temperatures up to 1,200 degrees Celsius revealed that the reactor's mechanical, electrical and thermal systems worked just as Koepf had predicted. He was even able to collect small amounts of the stored solar energy in a vial, despite operating below critical reaction temperatures in order to validate the system's components in a high temperature environment. Next month, Koepf heads back to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich to operate the reactor at full power for the first time. "Our objective is to produce as much solar fuel as possible," he said.

Fuels produced directly from sunlight have the potential to address concerns over energy security, declining conventional fuel production and long-term energy sustainability and environmental responsibility. It is a clean and benign energy harvesting cycle that creates no emission or by products—just hydrogen from sunlight and water. Koepf's reactor is designed to accomplish the first step in a two-step water-splitting process to generate hydrogen renewably from sunlight. The reactor, which is closed to the atmosphere, uses gravity to feed zinc oxide powder (the reactant) into the system through hoppers that dispense the powder onto a ceramic surface. There it undergoes a thermochemical reaction upon exposure to highly concentrated sunlight within the reaction cavity, producing solar fuel. Koepf's project also illustrates the value of developing partnerships, both locally and globally.

 

His work has led to international collaboration with Aldo Steinfeld, a worldwide expert in the field and head of the Solar Process Laboratory and the Paul Scherrer Institute.

 

Kemo D. 7

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