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Sunlight used to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels: Could this be the next big thing?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 Leave a Comment

The change in renewable space is fast paced and requires one path-breaking technology to prove that it can fuel the world's demand for energy. The issue with current solar energy technologies is that of storage. Researchers from the United States and Switzerland have tried to answer this. They are working on a "solar reactor" which can concentrate the solar energy on a cylinder lined with cerium oxide (ceria).

The technology:
This process breaks down the water into Hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Hydrogen produced could be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells in cars, for example, while a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be used to create "syngas" for fuel. According to the people involved on this project, methane can be produced by using the same machine.

The downsides:
Very low efficiency: Around 0.7% to 0.8% of the total solar energy taken in the machine. However, this can be improved upto 19% with better insulation and smaller apertures.

Requirement to be successful:
The usual suspects – low-carbon policy, economies of scale, government subsidies, etc.

One common string that binds all the renewable energy technologies as you might have guessed till now is the "cost vs. efficiency" factor. The third angle to this is, "why aren't people adopting it?" The number one reason I think is the marketing! How many solar/ wind companies in India actually market their products. Yes, this happens in conferences and exhibitions which are more of a B2B rather than a B2C ventures. Remember that computers were introduced as an industrial  machine but now has found its place with retail customers. Same could be the case with any renewable energy technology. I know how. Now you do. So what are we waiting for?

Let the thought shine..

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