An Economic and Environmental Analysis
A clean and infinite supply of energy, the sun has always been beacon of hope in the scientific quest to mitigate the effects of climate change.
As dependable as it is, the problem with that darn sun is that it doesn’t shine on cloudy days and its energy is a challenge to store. Paige Ferrell ’19 and Ava Shore ’19 and their faculty mentor, Julia Nicodemus, assistant professor of engineering studies, refocused on the sun to research the possibilities of creating a fuel made through a solar thermochemical process.
The team members, which presented their work in poster sessions last semester, also analyzed the potential of using solar power to create clean-burning hydrogen gas from water. One method involves converting carbon dioxide and water into syngas, which can be used directly for home heating or at traditional, fossil fuel-burning power plants, or to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels that can be used for transportation.
The team also analyzed the potential of using solar power to create clean-burning hydrogen gas from water. For both, the challenge is that water resources needed for both processes is limited in the region with the most abundant solar resources, namely the American southwest, and syngas will ultimately result in the production of carbon dioxide. And both processes need to be weighed against the effects of carbon taxes, water resources and market competiveness.
“It’s very exciting, but there’s more to do,” Ferrell says. “Environmentally friendly solar fuels hold so much promise as the energy industry looks to build new energy infrastructure to control climate change and remain competitive.”