Researchers from the US Department of Energy have added another outlet to solar powered electrolysis that will allow for simultaneous output of hydrogen fuel and electricity from excess solar power.
In electrolysis, solar powered circuits send direct electrical currents charging through a tank of water, breaking down H2O molecules in to hydrogen and oxygen respectively. Both of those combustible elements can then be used as a form of fuel, however hydrogen is known for it’s particularly clean burn compared to oil. So it is more commonly mentioned among plans for asteroid mining and green energy.
During this process of energy conversion from light to electricity a lot of solar power is lost through convection, but it turns out that’s just due to the device not having enough outlets in the back. You see, the front surface of the electrolysis device is usually reserved solely for solar panels while the back side has always been equipped with only a single outlet. Unfortunately using this approach also creates excess electricity that is not properly channeled by the device – reducing it’s energy efficiency.
Scientists eventually figured out that by simply adding another outlet to the back they could dislodge the electrons, free up potential energy as well as split the electricity in to separate solar power and hydrogen fuel streams, creating a new hybrid solar-fuel cell as a result. Using this approach they were able to transform a 6% energy efficient electrolysis device in to a 20% energy efficient solar-hydrogen fuel cell.
This kind of fuel would be better suited for scenarios where you need to apply some combustion from time to time but most of the journey is smooth and linear in comparison.
The only real reason combustible fuel is still around is because of it’s ability to create a vast amount of energy over a short period of time, that is – too leave the Earth. In other words our requirement for combustion is directly proportionate to the effects of gravity itself. There are plenty of other energy sources out there but they still tend to be graded on how fast they produce the kind of explosive torque required for transportation purposes, leaving chemical fuel in the lead.
However solar power is catching up very quickly and demand has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. With that being said, we may just need a device like this to put solar and chemical in context. On another topic, the solar hydrogen fuel cell could also potentially facilitate transportation in outer space.
By running hydrogen electrolysis, a combustible fuel and solar powered electrical currents through the same device you could more safely, autonomously, and inexpensively pilot interplanetary spacecraft by reducing the amount of required maintenance. In this case you could reserve the combustible hydrogen fuel for high torque situations and utilize solar power to maintain course over longer periods of time.
The US Department of Energy Built a prototype and it appears to work just like their simulations predicted