Device Harnesses Solar Power to Make Liquid Fuel

In an amazing technological leap ahead, a team of brilliant scientists from the US and Switzerland joined forces to construct the prototype for a wondrous machine that captures the sun’s energy and converts it to usable liquid fuels.

For most of the last century, researchers have sought ways to harness the power of the sun and convert it to use on Earth. Solar energy has been utilized in many forms for centuries, most recently with advanced solar arrays, powering satellites and developing a new generation of solar panels to convert photons to electricity.

The UK’s Guardian sought out the leader of the research team, Professor Sossina Haile. “We have a big energy problem and we have to think big,” she told the British newspaper.

The incredible device cleverly uses sunlight and cerium oxide. Together the two can reduce water or carbon dioxide into pure hydrogen or carbon monoxide. What’s more, the cerium oxide is used as a catalyst so it’s never used up and can be employed in the solar processing over and over again. Cerium is as abundant as copper.

Professor Haile is an expert on fuel cells at the California Institute of Technology. During the interview about the amazing machine she asserted it could create fuels that would run autos, trains, watercraft—even electrical utility plants.  

“There has been much national and international attention on hydrogen as the savior to address our energy and climate woes,” Haile said. “However, those who are honest recognize that hydrogen is merely an energy carrier, not an energy source.”

The innovative prototype works like this: a parabolic mirror focuses sunlight onto the cerium oxide raising the substance to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit. In the presence of either carbon dioxide or water it will convert the elements to usable fuels.

The process is both eloquent and simple.

While the current machine can only use less than a percent of the solar heat absorbed, Haile and the rest of her team are convinced that they can bump up the efficiency to a reasonable 19 percent. Future models would then be commercially available.

“If we had a perfect reactor, we should easily get 10 percent efficient,” Haile told an NPR reporter during another interview about the properties of the device. “We went through the big numbers and said, ‘Would this make any dent on U.S. energy production?’ And the answer is yes.”