A team of researchers in the US and Switzerland have created a machine that like plants uses solar energy to produce fuels, which can later be used in different ways. The machine makes use of sun’s rays and a metal oxide called ceria to break down carbon dioxide or water in fuels that can be stored and transported. Unlike solar panels, which work only during the day, this new machine is designed to store energy for later use.
Ceria or cerium oxide has a natural property to exhale oxygen as it heats up and inhale as it cools down. In the prototype, carbon dioxide and water are pumped into the vessel ceria rapidly strips oxygen from them creating hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide. Hydrogen produced by the machine can be used in fuel cells, whereas hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be combined to produce sungas.
While the prototype does show a possible use of solar energy for producing energy through the night as well, the machine suffers from an efficiency problem. The prototype developed harnesses only 0.8 percent of incident solar energy to produce more energy, while a major portion is lost through the reactor’s wall or through the re-radiation of sunlight back through the device’s aperture. The research team is confident that the efficiency rates can be enhanced to 19 percent by making some improvements in insulation and by using smaller apertures.