Energy powers all human activity, ranging from electricity, air conditioning and heating in your home to the vehicles you drive or take to your destination. Since 2011, research teams at CalTech and ETH Zurich have been working together to harness and produce alternative forms of renewable energy and thus provide clean, renewable and abundant sources of energy to power all human activity.
Powered by the Sun, future fuels could consist of only sunlight, air and water and thus provide unlimited, clean and renewable energy for cars, laptops, GPS systems and daily household and commercial activities. One of the primary methods takes concentrated heat from the sun to convert water and CO2 into hydrogen (H2) or carbon monoxide (CO). Combining the two would make liquid fuel that could power daily activities. Researchers at ETH Zurich have been working to further develop a pure hydrogen model and thus avoid any complications associated with carbon production. The liquid fuels generated could also be used in fuel cells, as suggested by CalTech researcher Sossina Haile.
Converting H2O and CO2 into H2 and CO is a known process but doing it efficiently and cost-effectively has not been easy. Rare elements such as platinum or iridium have been used as catalyst so trigger the conversion.
Numerous projects are underway at ETH Zurich to find ways to harness hydrogen more efficiently and to produce solar fuels effectively. One of the most recent successful projects was completed by Prof. Grützmacher and his research group. The team discovered that formaldehyde can be used to store hydrogen.
Developing ways to harness renewable energy sources requires knowledge of how to first produce the fuel efficiently, then to store it and distribute it. The abundance of solar energy direct from the Sun makes it a very compelling choice. Finding the most effective way to do this would have tremendously beneficial results.