Sunlight Could Help Fill Growing Demand for Hydrogen Fuel
In early August of this year, the Duke University Press released and article about a professor’s work in designing a solar system to create hydrogen fuel. Engineer Nico Hotz, now assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, is currently constructing a solar collection system that uses sunlight to produce more than just electricity. In Hotz’s design, sunlight heats a series of glass tubes containing water and methanol, which, after completing two catalyst reactions, produce hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells. Through calculation, Hotz believes that the rooftop hybrid system can achieve exergetic efficiencies of up to 28.5%, compared to conventional solar electricity systems with exergetic efficiencies if up to 15%. (Exergy describes the percentage of energy that can be converted to useful work). Additionally, Hotz estimates that his hybrid system allows for as much as 95% of the sunlight to be absorbed, which can create temperatures over 200 °C, compared to 60-70°C, which are the typical temperatures achieved in traditional solar-collecting systems.
During the ASME Energy Sustainability Fuel Cell 2011 conference, Hotz’s research paper highlighting his analysis received top honors. Although much of his work up to this point has been theoretical, Hotz will soon have the opportunity to test his theories once construction of his hybrid system is complete. The original article appearing in the Duke University Press can be found here.