New Reactor Paves the Way for Efficiently Producing Fuel from Sunlight

by Cal Tech Media Press Release:

Sossina Haile and William Chueh next to the benchtop thermochemical reactor used to screen materials for implementation on the solar reactor.

Using a common metal most famously found in self-cleaning ovens, Sossina Haile hopes to change our energy future. The metal is cerium oxide—or ceria—and it is the centerpiece of a promising new technology developed by Haile and her colleagues that concentrates solar energy and uses it to efficiently convert carbon dioxide and water into fuels.

The researchers designed and built a two-foot-tall prototype reactor that has a quartz window and a cavity that absorbs concentrated sunlight. The concentrator works “like the magnifying glass you used as a kid” to focus the sun’s rays, says Haile.

The ETH-Caltech solar reactor for producing H2 and CO from H2O and CO2 via the two-step thermochemical cycle with ceria redox reactions.

At the heart of the reactor is a cylindrical lining of ceria. Ceria—a metal oxide that is commonly embedded in the walls of self-cleaning ovens, where it catalyzes reactions that decompose food and other stuck-on gunk—propels the solar-driven reactions. The reactor takes advantage of ceria’s ability to “exhale” oxygen from its crystalline framework at very high temperatures and then “inhale” oxygen back in at lower temperatures.

Cal Tech Media Press Release

o_O First, Joule Unlimited patents a genetically e.coli modified fuel source and now Cal Tech designs reactor that produces energy from a common metal.

Great week for energy!