Now, solar energy to help create fuel, electricity

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 20:13

Melbourne: Scientists have developed a new technology that taps solar energy to produce chemicals which could be stored to create electricity and fuels.

The new technology mimics photosynthesis, the process used by plants, by combining sunlight and water in such a way that promises storable fuels.

The development, that uses man-made materials, would offer many benefits, including the ability to store chemicals until needed - current solar power technology has difficulties in this area.

The "solar to chemical energy conversion" process is outlined by RMIT University researcher Associate Professor Yasuhiro Tachibana, from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

According to Tachibana, it remains a challenge to construct a device capable of producing molecular fuels like hydrogen at a scale and cost able to compete with fossil fuels.

The key to improving efficiency will be in the development of new "nano-materials" (microscopically small components), along with efficient control of charge transfer reaction processes, and improvement to the structure of devices.

Recent developments in the field of nanotechnology have been leading to promising improvements in cost and effectiveness of the conversion process, Tachibana said.

"Our future scientific goal is to establish a solar water splitting system operated only by abundant sunlight and sea water," Tachibana said.

"Fortunately these resources are freely available on this blue planet," he said in a statement.

The latest research was significant, but challenges remained in how to translate laboratory-scale academic research into a practical, economically viable technology, said Professor Xinghuo Yu, Director of RMIT`s Platform Technologies Research Institute.

In addition to using solar energy, other commercially available renewable energy sources like wind and tidal power could also conceivably be applied, Yu said.

The study findings are published in the journal, `Nature Photonics`.


First Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 20:13

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