A team of researchers in the US and Switzerland have created amachine that like plants uses solar energy to produce fuels, which canlater be used in different ways. The machine makes use of the 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, whichwork only during the day, this new machine is designed to store energyfor later use.
Ceria or cerium oxide has a natural property to exhale oxygen as itheats up and inhale as it cools down. In the prototype, carbon dioxideand water are pumped into the vessel ceria rapidly strips oxygen fromthem creating hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide. Hydrogen produced by themachine can be used in fuel cells, whereas hydrogen and carbon monoxidecan be combined to produce syngas.
While the prototype does show a possible use of solar energy forproducing energy through the night as well, the machine suffers from anefficiency problem. The prototype developed harnesses only 0.8 percentof incident solar energy to produce more energy, while a major portionis lost through the reactor’s wall or through the re-radiation ofsunlight back through the device’s aperture. The research team isconfident that the efficiency rates can be enhanced to 19 percent bymaking some improvements in insulation and by using smaller apertures.