Local Researchers Take Solar Power To The Next Level

Written by Paul Day

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)-It all begins with fresh water combined with what essentially is rust.

“Just simple oxidized iron,” said University of Colorado researcher and PhD student Paul Lichty.

The mixture is superheated with mirrors reflecting energy from the sun.

“We can reach temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” added Carl Binham, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

This is cutting edge research at NREL.

“It’s much like using a magnifying glass to burn things only a much larger scale,” said Bingham.

He explains the high powered solar oven is making hydrogen.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Alan Weimer, a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado.

The car makers are committed to rolling out hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles within the next five years.

“A fuel cell car, I drove one recently, it’s incredible to me at how similar it is to an actual car.” said Weimer.

Making hydrogen from renewable solar energy is a greener way to go than producing hydrogen from fossil fuels.

“All of a sudden our energy source is derived from sunlight, and it’s completely developed and produced in the United States,” explained Lichty.

Still to be worked out is whether the emerging technology can truly be cost effective. Another question for the researchers to resolve is can solar-made hydrogen be scaled up successfully to compete in the marketplace.

But Weimer, the Lead Investigator on the project, is optimistic about the work already accomplished over the past 15 years.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said.

He adds that a fuel cell car powered by just 11 pounds of hydrogen can travel up to 400 miles.

But what really drives this joint NREL-CU research team is everything is renewable. Their project has been helped along with funding grants from the U.S. Department of Energy totaling nearly $2 million.

  • Maria

    Natural gas is currently much more putneifll than petroleum. It’s already piped throughout the civilized world. The hydrogen from coal gasification comes from the water used in the process. The car itself emits practically no pollutants.If you are using a green’ or renewable energy source (photovoltaic, fission, wind etc.) to electrolyze water, you are simply converting that electric energy into the chemical energy of the broken HO bonds of the water. That’s mainly a way of making the energy transportable to a vehicle. Time will tell whether that’s more efficient or practical than simply making an electric car, especially one roofed with photovoltaic cells.You recover the chemical energy from the hydrogen by combustion (often via a fuel cell). The energy is released as the hydrogen recombines with oxygen to form water. Thus, no net change to earth’s water supply.

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